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‘Deep in this voting thing’: Princeton athletes reflect on how they prepared for Election Day

Caption: A collage of six of the athletes that the 'Prince' spoke showing off their voting stickers or voting projects.

Credit: Alissa Selover, Head Sports Editor
Caption: A collage of six of the athletes that the 'Prince' spoke showing off their voting stickers or voting projects. Credit: Alissa Selover, Head Sports Editor

According to Isabelle Chandler ’21, a senior captain on the women’s lightweight crew team, voting “is a right and an awesome opportunity that we have.” Among Princeton student-athletes, she isn’t alone.

The Daily Princetonian asked representatives from six varsity teams about how they and their teams promoted voting in the weeks leading to Election Day. Conversations with Chandler, women’s cross country and track and field’s Elizabeth Chittenden ’21, women’s soccer’s Ella Gantman ’23, men’s basketball’s Ryan Schwieger ’21, men’s soccer’s Benjamin Bograd ’23 and Khamari Hadaway ’25, and football’s Caleb Coleman ’24 shed light on their efforts.

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 ‘That’s what we do as a team’

While all teams set voter registration goals, the men’s soccer, women’s soccer, men’s basketball, and women’s cross country and track and field teams officially achieved 100 percent voter registration among all eligible teammates. Team members expressed gratitude for their coaching staff’s help getting there.

Schwieger, a senior guard and team captain on the men’s basketball team, credited the team’s 100 percent voter registration to check-ins during weekly team Zoom calls, where he answered any questions about voter registration status, such as in cases of dual citizenship.

Recalling those calls, Schwieger said, “if you know you aren’t registered for a couple of weeks, it was like, let’s figure it out, let’s get registered.” According to Schwieger, head coach Mitch Henderson “was one of the leading voices in getting us all to register.”

Similar to the men’s basketball team, the men’s soccer and football teams also utilized team meetings. In addition to talking through voter registration, they discussed ongoing movements for social and racial justice.

“We give a lot of ideas of what we can do to support and raise awareness for the Black Lives Matter movement. That’s what we do as a team,” Hadaway explained.

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About a quarter of the women who row on the lightweight team are international. Nevertheless, senior team captain Isabelle Chandler said most teammates registered to vote. In the week before the election, Chandler sent out an email encouraging those eligible to register.

The teams’ coaching and support staff also helped. “There are lots of resources that are sent out by the Princeton Athletic department in general, and our coaches emphasize this with additional emails, pointing us to where we can go to vote,” Chittenden explained.

Making a plan

After achieving their first goal, Chittenden, Hadaway, Gantman, Schweiger, Coleman, Chandler, and other team leaders turned to the next step: ensuring everyone had a voting plan. Gantman said that she wanted to make sure the “100 percent registration rate converts into 100 percent voting rate,” and she was fairly certain that everyone on the team would vote.

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Schwieger said that state-specific rules about absentee ballots made voting this year more confusing.

“Absentee ballots aren’t the easiest thing to remember to do, between going to class and whatnot, and once you remember to do it you have to do it right,” Schweiger said. “But if we do it as a team and we hold each other accountable, there’s no excuses for not voting.”

Gantman agreed that voting required “a lot more coordination,” since athletes are not all on campus together and therefore cannot drop off their ballots together.

They discovered that “a very successful tactic so far is making people make a plan before — are you voting early, did you request your absentee ballot, did you mail in your ballot, etc,” Gantman said. “I recommend that your voting plan be super specific — you should know what day, what time, how you’re getting there, etc. If you don’t, there are just so many excuses,” she said.

Gantman voted early in person on Thursday, Oct. 29 at 8:30 a.m., after driving herself to the nearby polling location.

Schwieger planned to vote early and in person and, at the time of his interview, was making his way through ballotpedia.com to ensure that his research on the candidates was thorough.

“I don’t want to just guess at any names,” he said. “The minimum that everyone can do is to stay engaged in the process and stay educated.”

Chittenden, a resident of California, sent in a mail-in ballot. She had made plans to return to her hometown from Tahoe, where she is spending the semester with a few teammates, to fill out her ballot.

Coleman explained that since Massachusetts was offering in-person early voting, he went with his mother a couple weeks prior to Election Day.

Hadaway, a resident of Virginia, voted by mail-in ballot. “I was so excited to go to the polls,” he said. “I was so excited to vote, but it was so anticlimactic — getting it in the mail, filling out, and just being done. But I’m so grateful that I can and that I did.”

Although Bograd’s home state is New Jersey, he is currently residing in California. Bograd’s family mailed him an absentee ballot weeks before Election Day.

Chandler was registered in Connecticut and made plans to vote in person on Election Day.

Talking as a team

Voting often arose outside official team contexts. Gantman, along with the women’s soccer coaches and captains, said she found it important to bring up voting in both casual and official team settings.

“I’ve been pushing that this is important in our group chats and asking people if they have any questions,” Gantman explained.

Gantman became her team’s voting “point person.” “I had a lot of different teammates asking me about absentee ballots and mail-in and what deadlines were and how they would find out about certain things, and so I would try to do that research for them and get back to them,” she said.

Based on this research, Gantman said, “vote.org is a really great resource — if you look up your state, it will have the instruction for every different kind of circumstance you can find yourself in.”

Gantman also explained that “voting has come up in a colloquial manner” among her teammates. While living with some of her teammates in South Carolina, the team watched the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates and “had fun with it.”

“We debated topics, and we’re still friends. We’re able to have those discussions in a respectful manner,” Gantman said.

Many other teams shared this sentiment, noting that political discussions had always remained respectful.

“We talk about pretty much everything in the locker room or on the bus to games, so talking about the debate or something isn’t much different,” Schwieger explained.

Schwieger belongs to a group chat with other senior teammates and their faculty fellow, Gene Grossman, an expert on international trade.

“[Grossman] sent us 10 texts explaining what this means and what that means” after some questions came up during the Vice Presidential debate, Schweiger said. He added that many people involved with the team and the athletics department were “there for us for anything we need in this process.”

While Hadaway stressed that the men’s soccer players had not “pushed an agenda for a specific candidate,” their conversations made clear “that this election is very important for the Black community and for a lot of different communities that are struggling right now under the Trump administration,” Hadaway said.

According to Bograd, though teammates hold differing views on certain political topics, the team participated in “civil discussion,” which never devolved into “unproductive conversation.”

The lightweight women’s crew also pushed into “more political discussions surrounding the election,” Chandler said. Over the summer, the crew team held a biweekly book club to discuss systemic racism in the context of the Black Lives Matter protests.

Chittenden, when asked if political conversations affected the team dynamic, said that was “nothing that can’t be overcome.” Emphasizing the team’s strong bond, she said, “there definitely have been tense conversations between [teammates]. But they also at the end of the day will go for a run together.”

Above and beyond

Many of these student athlete leaders took their passion for civic engagement to the next level.

Chandler encouraged the lightweight Tigers to act by sharing emails with information on phone banking events for various candidates and other similar resources. Other athlete leaders became involved with specific voting organizations, such as Vote100 and the Poll Hero Project.

Football’s outside linebacker Coleman volunteered to take part in a Vote100 video alongside fellow teammates. The video was posted on the football team’s official Instagram.

Gantman had been heavily involved with two major voting efforts this summer and fall as a Vote100 Lead Athletic Ambassador and a founder of the Poll Hero Project. Vote100, an effort sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, encourages 100 percent of eligible Princeton students to register and vote.

Gantman worked for Vote100 by “sending emails and outreach to the athletic director and the whole department to make sure they were aware of what Vote100 was and encouraging all the coaches to talk about it with their athletes.”

Joined by Schwieger and other non-athlete Princeton students this summer, Gantman founded the Poll Hero Project, “a nonpartisan organization with the mission to recruit and facilitate the process of becoming a poll worker.”

She explained that students began the project because “poll workers was a niche that hadn’t been filled, and it was something tangible that we could do. We wouldn’t have to wait for anyone else to create that chance for us, we could do it ourselves.”

“It kinda blew up a little bit, more than we thought it would, so that’s really exciting to see,” Schwieger said of the Poll Hero Project. After learning of Schwieger’s involvement, many of his teammates signed up to be poll workers.

Bograd, who had also been working with the Poll Hero Project, explained that about 60 percent of poll workers in past elections have been senior citizens. According to Gantman, experts told the founding students that “poll working was absolutely a disaster in the primary,” so she, Schwieger, Bograd, and others “focused on students recruiting other students to be poll workers.”

The Poll Hero Project, featured on major news outlets such as CNN, attracted national attention and gained momentum in the last few months. 

Bograd worked for Maine Democratic Senate nominee Sara Gideon’s campaign. In that role, he called residents in Maine, “talking to voters and trying to get Democratic supporters to volunteer with [them], and then trying to make sure that people who are more on the fence have a compelling perspective on why they should support the Democratic Party.”

Though Gideon lost her race last night, Bograd said that working with the Gideon campaign and the Poll Hero Project was an “eye-opening” experience. “There’s just so much you can do without committing an obscene amount of time, [while] making a real substantial difference,” he said.

“I’m deep in this voting thing,” Schwieger said, explaining his thesis work on gerrymandering.

Gantman wasn’t the only one on the women’s soccer team who took voting seriously.

“The whole team has been so incredibly supportive of the projects I’ve been involved in as well as projects independently of me. I think that our team cares deeply about the state of our country and the democratic processes that our democracy rests upon, and we will always support that,” Gantman said. She acknowledged her coaches for doing “an excellent job supporting me and supporting these organizations.”

Schwieger’s team was right there with him too. Schwieger praised the efforts his fellow senior Elijah Barnes, who “led some protests a few months ago.”

“He’s been speaking a lot in his community, doing a lot of good work in his community. Guys are really stepping up to be leaders wherever they are,” Schwieger continued.

According to Schwieger, a few teammates living in the northeast were planning to travel to New Jersey to watch Barnes speak in Princeton, Trenton, Newark, and other local communities in need.

“That’s what teams are for — they’re supportive. This is just another way that teams can be teams and support each other and hold each other accountable,” he explained.

In their own words

All the athletes found voting particularly important this year, not least because it was everyone’s first time voting in a presidential election. Here’s what they had to say when asked, “What does voting mean to you?”

“Most importantly, for me, as a woman and a woman of color, I think that voting is the bare minimum that you can do for all the people who fought for your suffrage before you. There have been people who have lived, fought, and died just so that I could vote, and to not do that feels like a disservice in those people’s honors. And as well, there are so many people living today who can’t vote or are prevented from voting due to various reasons, so anyone that has the ability to vote and no obstruction to your voting, to not do that is such a disservice.” — Ella Gantman (women’s soccer)

“It’s the most important thing you can do as a citizen. This summer a lot of social and racial justice things brought voting to the forefront. Through the research for my independent work [in the sociology department], I’ve learned that a group of citizens voting is the most powerful thing.” — Ryan Schwieger (men’s basketball)

“It's about responsibility in terms of making sure that people who have the best interests of Americans at heart get elected. And it comes down, for me, to supporting people who are good and decent and have strong moral values.” — Benjamin Bograd (men’s soccer)

“I think it’s just really important for everyone to have their voices heard and to help with the different issues that we face today, because there are a lot of people that complain about things that are happening in the country, but don’t do much to help it. So I think if you make your voice heard, vote for the candidate you think would best fill the seat and then we can move forward together and accomplish the things we want to accomplish.” — Khamari Hadaway (men’s soccer)

“I have pretty bad feelings towards our current president right now, especially about all of the racial injustices that have come to light under his administration. It feels good to be able to actively participate and to point our country in a better direction.” — Caleb Coleman (football)

“Participating in this process is a right and an awesome opportunity that we have. I think it’s important to exercise that right and try to create a government that I’m proud of.” — Isabelle Chandler (women’s lightweight crew)

“There are a lot of people in this country who don’t have the privilege of voting. If you’re incarcerated, if you don’t have access to a voting center, if you’re not going to receive your mail-in ballot on time, if your state is not allowing you to do mail-in ballots, like there are a lot of people who don’t have access to this privilege. So I think it’s incredibly important for every single person who does to actually act upon it. So it becomes more than a privilege at that point. It’s a duty and obligation.” — Elizabeth Chittenden (women’s cross country and track and field)

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