By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Region – A loose network of college and high school advocates sent flurries of direct messages and social media postings to well over a thousand area young people in the days before this month’s election.
They asked one question — “How can we help you vote?”
Organized under the banner of “Vote Local Massachusetts” people like Hudson’s Julia Terra-Salomão found civic purpose this fall in the apolitical goal of getting more people to participate in democracy.
As the 2020 election shattered voter turnout records, those individuals are now looking back and seeing a job well done.
“That really has to do with local community members doing the work to get the vote out,” Terra-Salomão said. “…That’s where the work has always been done and I think that’s what the future is.”
Vote Local first formed in late July thanks to the effort of Northborough advocate Apple Lin.
Terra-Salomão and Hudson friends Maya Levine and Aline Keledjian connected with Vote Local after just a matter of weeks soon forming their hyper local splinter organization, Vote Hudson in early August.
Around the same time, similar chapters popped up in Shrewsbury, Marlborough and Southborough.
“Vote Local kind of gives us a place to work together,” Terra-Salomão said of this broad organizational structure. “We share resources. But then we also get to make it our own and focus on what we think will be best for our followers.”
Groups, indeed, operated by attracting followers, then individually direct messaging those followers. Organizers introduced themselves in messages and offered guidelines on how to request mail in ballots, make voting plans, and more.
This strategy of conversation, Terra-Salomão said, was a deliberate one focused on personalizing politics and political advocacy.
“Often, when these text banking things happen, if it’s someone you know talking to you, it feels more person to person and like you’re talking to a friend,” she said. “We felt that would be a more effective way to get out the vote.”
Through it all, Terra-Salomão stressed that she and fellow organizers remained committed to political neutrality.
They have their own opinions, Terra-Salomão conceded. And many were, in fact, directly involved with organizing local Black Lives Matter demonstrations over the summer.
But, with a message of political participation and election integrity, Terra-Salomão said she and other youth agreed they couldn’t push an actual partisan agenda.
“At the end of the day,” she said, “if we’re trying to uphold the principle of our democracy, the goal should be getting everyone to vote no matter what they believe.”
It’s hard to track the actual impacts of a group like Vote Hudson. Public data, after all, only captures cumulative voter turnout for entire towns.
Regardless, in an election upended by COVID-19, turnout still actually spiked. The nation set records. Massachusetts as a state impressed its own top election officer as Secretary of State William Galvin said before Election Day that he expected to see record rates of voting. Back in Hudson, meanwhile, turnout jumped by 2 percent compared to the 2016 election, mimicking a trend seen across the region.
Youth leaders claim this as a win, celebrating national grassroots efforts to get people registered to vote and, eventually, into polling locations.
Going forward, though, they stress that this is only the beginning.
“We’ve just been really appreciative of all the positive feedback we’ve got so far,” Terra-Salomão said. “We’re just individual people trying to make sense of this crazy climate. So it feels good to know that we’ve made an impact on people.”