Stanford students in D.C. get opportunity for hands-on democracy

At the Bing Stanford in Washington program, Stanford students will be answering questions from voters – Where is my polling place? – and live-blogging election results.

Emma Ogiemwanye Aditya Todi and Lindsay Funk at computers

Aditya Todi and Lindsay Funk, students enrolled in Stanford in Washington, will be live-blogging on Election Day.

Instead of just watching election results, Stanford students enrolled in the Bing Stanford in Washington (SIW) program will be participating in the democratic process – live-blogging results in one room in the program's building in northwest Washington and answering questions from voters in another.

The students will be live-blogging for PolicyMic, a fledgling online news platform co-founded by a Stanford alumnus.

PolicyMic, which is headquartered in New York City, is sending one of its top writers – Mark Kogan, who is based in Washington, D.C. – to train the students and to be the "master and commander" of the live-blogging team on election night, said Jake Horowitz, '09, who co-founded the news site in 2011 as a for-profit company.

"It's a real cool opportunity not only to watch the election night coverage, but also to participate in the media coverage," Horowitz said. "Mark will be helping them make a really interesting page with multimedia and interactive content that will keep people looking at the blogs throughout election night."

Adrienne Jamieson, director of SIW, said the 26 students enrolled this quarter have watched the debates together and have listened to talks from an array of journalists and policymakers.

"A number of the students are particularly interested in defense and foreign policy," she said. "They're interested in blogging about what some of the policy implications might be for a Romney presidency or a second-term Obama presidency – as much as blogging about the horse race."

Jamieson said students also would be able to volunteer in a call center, which will be set up in one of their classrooms by the Washington, D.C., chapter of Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights. Stanford in Washington will host the space for four days: Saturday through Tuesday, Election Day. They will be answering basic questions from voters, such as "Where is my polling place?" and "Do I need to bring identification?"

During their quarter at SIW, students work as interns in government and nongovernmental organizations during the day, take classes taught by Stanford faculty and national policy experts in the evening and participate in cultural events and activities on weekends.

The students live and study in the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Center, which is located in northwest Washington, D.C.

Jamieson said this quarter's SIW cohort includes four international students who are fascinated by the American election process.

"Most of the students in this group are here because they're interested in policy areas, not necessarily politics," Jamieson said. "One of the students – a political science and history major – is doing an internship in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Four students have internships at the State Department. They're working all over town."

Aditya Todi, an international student from Nepal who is majoring in international relations at Stanford, plans to join the live-blogging team and work in the call center.

"I'm very interested in democracy – elections especially," he said.

Todi, who is working as an intern at the Asia Foundation, is taking classes in civil rights law, foreign policy and development economics in the evening.

"I do feel sometimes that Americans take it for granted that every four years, on the first Tuesday of November, come what may, you can vote and choose a leader and a course for the country," said Todi, who grew up during a time of great political turmoil in Nepal, which became a democratic republic in 2008.

"Voting is a privilege a lot of people around the world don't have. A lot of people around the world don't know if they'll ever have elections in their countries. And if they do, they don't know if they will be fair elections," Todi said.

Horowitz said PolicyMic plans to have a team of 200 young people – two to three in every state – live-blogging on Election Day, including students at Harvard and Georgetown universities.

Lindsay Funk, a senior from Seattle who is majoring in religious studies at Stanford, hopes to live-blog for her home state on Election Day.

"It's really cool for me to get the chance to be trained in live-blogging," she said. "It's hard to get into something like that if you haven't done it before."

Funk is working as an intern at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and taking classes on foreign policy, congressional oversight of the press and policymaking in the Washington community.

"If you want to get into policy, D.C. is one of the best places to go," she said. "Stanford in Washington helps you learn more about how D.C. works, and to learn more about the places where you might want to work. I really love it here."

Horowitz co-founded PolicyMic with Chris Altcheck, a Harvard grad, and Josh Nuni, a political organizer. Horowitz and Altcheck are longtime friends – and self-described political nemeses – who say they have been debating each other for as long as they can remember. One thing they did agree on, Horowitz said, was that the mainstream media had failed to engage their generation in real conversation.

Horowitz, who spent a quarter during his junior year at SIW, said live-blogging for PolicyMic, which is nonpartisan, seemed like a natural fit for the program.

He said the news website was designed to engage millennials in debates about real issues, and to give a platform to the next generation of pundits and reporters who are ready for productive discussion and a new kind of dialogue.

Emma Ogiemwanye, Stanford in Washington: (202) 332-6235,