Universities are 'all in' to encourage students to vote despite going remote

Colleges across the country have joined the “All in Democracy Challenge” to encourage all students to vote in the upcoming presidential election.

Outreach includes resources to vote, voter registration webinars, and virtual watch parties.

Universities across the country are joining the “All In Democracy Challenge,” encouraging all students to vote in the upcoming November election.

The challenge has teamed up with more than 706 institutions in 49 states and the District of Columbia in order to encourage colleges to make civic engagement, informed citizenship, and voting a part of campus culture.
The most recent campus to join the nonpartisan, national initiative is the University of Massachusetts. On August 12, UMass President Marty Meehan announced that he has “committ[ed] to 100 percent student voter registration, engagement and turnout” through the challenge.

“Voting is one of the most important and fundamental duties we have as members of a democratic society – voting is about being heard and helping to set a course for the future, and I am proud to join with higher education leaders from across the nation in urging every student to make their voices heard in the coming elections,” Meehan said in the announcement.

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In a post on Medium, Meehan noted that he was inspired by the late Democratic Georgia congressman and his old friend Rep. John R. Lewis.

“Inspired yet again by John’s life and example, I plan to spend the coming weeks, months and years encouraging students at the University of Massachusetts — and beyond — to register to vote, to participate in the upcoming elections and to remain engaged with our precious but fragile American democracy.”

With many schools across the country still participating in remote instructions, higher education institutions are presented with a unique challenge in encouraging students to vote from afar. Given how many colleges have switched to fully online learning, the legality of students voting in the state in which their college is located while residing in and completing their courses from another state is hotly contested.

Campus Reform took a deeper look at this situation and how universities across the country are encouraging students to vote.

The University of Massachusetts-Amherst hosts a  website with election information on how to vote and be informed. Steps include links to register to vote, to learn about the political candidates running in Massachusetts, and to check voter status, and information about the different types of voting.

Bryn Mawr College, a prestigious women’s college in the swing state of Pennsylvania, has been on board with the challenge since 2016. 

According to the school’s 2020 action plan posted on the challenge’s website, the college is planning to adhere to restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Outreach for Bryn Mawr will include voter registration webinars in the months leading up to the November 3 election, especially ones targeting incoming students during orientation. Bryn Mawr has also established a Civic Engagement staff, and students can set up one-on-one virtual appointments with staff members if they have any questions about voting.

Bowdoin College, a liberal arts college in Maine, has teamed up with multiple organizations to ensure voter participation of students.

“First, we are partnering with TurboVote so our students can get reliable, customized, on-demand support with the process of registration & ballot request, as well as election updates [and] reminders,” Bowdoin Associate Director for Service and Leadership Andrew Lardie told Campus Reform. “Second, we have partnered with two non-partisan organizations called Ask Every Student and Maine Students Vote, who are leaders in the movement to get colleges to systematically deliver one-on-one support and follow-up to every student on campus.” 

Lardie explained that the school plans to hire “about two dozen students” to “recruit and coordinate a volunteer corp of about 200 students.” These students will be tasked with using their “own personal social networks” to encourage voter participation.

“Each volunteer Voting Captain will have a ‘squad’ of contacts who they will regularly follow up with and encourage, all the way through to completion of the voting process wherever they are living,” explained Lardie.

“Along the way, we will be offering educational programming to remind students of the many ways they can be engaged in the work of democracy all year round and regardless of their personal eligibility to vote. NESCAC Votes saves every member school time by increasing our sharing of ideas, and creating potential for co-sponsored events or joint development of informational and media resources that can be used by all NESCAC schools.”

The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, which recently switched to only hosting remote classes, told Campus Reform that encouraging students to vote is a priority.

“We communicate important voting information to our students, including deadlines, voter registration information, and how to participate in early voting and Election Day Voting,” UNC spokesperson Dan Olsen said. “Many Carolina buildings serve as polling locations for both student and resident voters. UNC-Chapel Hill staff work with the county board of elections to ensure the accessibility of voting on Election Day. Every year, staff from the Carolina Center of Public Service enable student leaders to attend the North Carolina College Voter Summit. Additionally, staff has assisted community volunteers who are interested in registering students to vote.”

“Several student leaders- including from Student Government and the Office of Student Life and Leadership- are working to ensure that students have the information they need to communicate to their peers how to register to vote and particularly important this year, how to request an absentee ballot,” the spokesperson added.

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Michigan State University has not only joined the initiative, but has also “joined the Commission on Presidential Debates” and in response to the pandemic, “will host in-person or virtual (depending on COVID19 status) Debate Watch Programs for the presidential and vice-presidential debates.” on September 29, October 7, October 15, and October 22.

Arizona State University has also teamed up with the challenge. 

On the University’s action plan for 2020, Arizona State has acknowledged the barrier that the current pandemic will bring to voting, and notes that it has paused partnerships with University Housing, Athletics, and Marketing to encourage voting.

According to a study from Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy and Higher Education, the national student voter registration rate was 73.3 percent in 2018, which was up from 65.3 percent in 2014. However, only 55 percent of registered student voters turned out in the 2018 midterm elections, which was up from 29.6 percent in 2014. In 2018, around 7.5 million students voted.

UMass-Amherst, Bryn Mawr College, MSU, and ASU did not respond in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article: Lela Gallery