OpenGov Voices: Campus Vote Project courting college campuses
I started as the National Field Director at Campus Vote Project a few months ago and the majority of my job is working with faculty, administrators and democracy fellows in states with less infrastructure but with passionate, motivated people. Our goal is to institutionalize reforms at colleges and universities to empower students with the information they need to register and vote. When I interview potential democracy fellows, I talk to them about what they think this means for their college and community, and, more importantly, why they want to be a part of it.
Hailing from California to Florida, these student leaders often speak on items specific to their campus. In states like North Carolina, they talk about discriminatory laws their legislators have tried to put in place and confusion as those laws fluctuate. Floridians often talk about addressing confusing ID laws and the intersection of citizenship drives with voter registration drives. Students in Texas feel inhibited by restrictive voter registration laws and Californians are generally concerned about low voter-turnout rates. While they have considerable differences, they share some common interests including how voting is critical for a stable democracy and how they want their peers to feel confident about registering to vote and having the tools they need when they go to the polls.
One common factor across all the states is that fellows believe the most important information to guarantee turnout at the polls is knowing how to navigate the electoral system. Often times high school education curriculums leave the logistics of how to register and vote out of the lesson plans. Thins includes; what a ballot looks like, what ID is needed to register, when early voting periods start and all other parts of the electoral process are often left for young voters to figure out on their own. This usually entails combing through complicated language on local, county and state websites that are frequently not youth-friendly.
Campus Vote Project’s state-specific student voting guides break down voting language into digestible pieces of information, but it takes dedicated partners to make sure the information gets out. Our college campuses embody some of those partners and our democracy fellows support busy faculty to ensure students see the information. About 41 percent of young people admit to being unsure of ID laws in their state, according to a 2016 election poll from CIRCLE showing that election law is a significant barrier to college students who are often newer voters.
Students who interviewed for our fellowships believed that to make a significant change, information about how to register to vote needs to be integrated into their campus’s curriculum. One-on-one conversations are often used to address immediate concerns of a student voter and translating those conversations into structural changes for a college makes a huge impact. As students come back to campus this fall they’ll be participating in welcome fairs and be exposed to new opportunities. By working with faculty and administrators to integrate voting information into the institution’s communications and activities, democratic engagement will become a norm of daily campus life.
As a nonpartisan organization, Campus Vote Project works to help administrators understand how they can make sure their communications and engagement activities avoid partisanship. It’s critical that all students regardless of political affiliation understand the importance of being an educated voter and casting a ballot.
The fundamental act of voting is an important part of cultivating well-rounded civic education. Our fellows, faculty and administrative partners utilize this knowledge to encourage colleges to host events such as National Voter Registration Day, incorporate voter registration on college websites and address needs specific to their student body. For fellows, these activities have an impact long after they have left the institution setting a path for future students to get engaged in the democratic process as well.
With less than three months to go until Election Day, Campus Vote Project, our democracy fellows and our partners are working hard to prepare students to participate in the election. With the right tools in place, we are confident students will have the right materials not only to register, but understand the candidates and issues on the ballot this November.
For more information on our work or to download your state’s Student Voting Guide visit us at www.campusvoteproject.org
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