EDUCATE ON ISSUES, CANDIDATES AND WHY ELECTIONS MATTER
Distribute and display nonpartisan information on where candidates stand on issues. Students often say they don’t vote because they believe candidates are “all lying and spinning.” Offering clear information on where candidates stand therefore plays a critical role in battling cynicism.
Distribute and widely publicize the nonpartisan candidate guides that CEEP creates for major statewide races, like U.S. Senator and Governor. We also have a “guide to the guides” that describes ways schools have successfully distributed them, including:
- Encourage the student newspaper to use these guides as a starting point for their election coverage, highlighting the impact candidate positions can make in student lives.
- Send out the guides through all-campus email. Or print them and put them in students’ physical mailboxes.
- Link to them on your election-related website.
- Use them to spark discussions in classrooms and residence halls. Give them to professors to distribute during class.
- Think big: Display information drawn from the guides on posters large enough to be visible to passing students. Display these posters in high-traffic areas of the student union, classroom buildings, or residence halls.
- Get digital: Distribute links to the guides through social media networks and text-blasts. Use creative approaches like chalking your campus with the URL of how to view them. Track views if you can.
Create guides to down-ballot races and key issues and have conversations around them.
- If CEEP isn’t already doing so, create your own nonpartisan guides to down ballot races, like Secretary of State, Attorney General, Congressional and local legislative races, and local and statewide initiatives. Have students create these guides adapting CEEP’s template of key questions under the supervision of political science, communications, or honors faculty, or have the faculty create them. Distribute them in the campus and community as you would the CEEP guides.
- If your local League of Women Voters chapter is creating guides, particularly for complex issues like statewide initiatives, promote and distribute those as well.
- You can also promote the more localized guides produced by BallotReady.
Work with local and student media to highlight issues relevant to young voters.
- Ask them to explore specific policy differences between candidates, including important local races, and lower profile statewide races like Attorney General or Secretary of State, so students have more to go on than ads, sound bites and personality spin.
- Stress to the staff at your student newspaper that students have few trusted sources for information on political candidates, and that they can play a critical role in preparing the campus for Election Day.
- Encourage your student paper to cover your efforts and student participation in campaigns. They could even run ongoing columns by the College Democrats and College Republicans.
- Ask them to print CEEP’s nonpartisan candidate guides as inserts or to build off them for coverage. See our toolkit on Working with Your Student Newspaper for additional specific ideas.
Ask Communications faculty members to let students cover election-related news for class credit.
- Communications professors often have relationships with local broadcasting stations, so have them see if local stations will air the material, as the Richmond CBS affiliate did with material generated by Virginia Commonwealth University students.
- Communications students at Virginia Commonwealth University and Rhode Island’s Roger Williams University both created social media channels with their own reporting and more general election stories.
- Consider engaging relevant classes to create an ongoing fact-checking/fake news reporting team site that students can go to. They can draw on sites like factcheck.org, FlackCheck.org, Politifact.com and Snopes.com.
Hold debate watch parties and follow-up conversations in major common spaces like large auditoriums or more intimate spaces like residence halls. Have faculty give credit for attending, as in the Florida Atlantic University example below.
- Work with Residence Life to hold simultaneous parties in every dorm, which gives you a chance to reach a large number of students.
- Use social media to foster discussion on the themes of the debates. Create a social media toolkit with relevant usernames and hashtags so students can easily focus on and join in the conversation.
- To engage with the larger community, invite students to attend debates or forums hosted by the League of Women Voters or other community groups. Include ways to bring the discussion back to the broader campus community.
- Hold classroom follow-up discussions afterward. Faculty can have students reflect on the debates through presentations, papers, or classroom-specific debates, exploring relevant policy aspects.
Ask faculty to engage students via their courses, including giving course credit for volunteering in campaigns of their choice or in your school’s nonpartisan campus election engagement effort.
- Hold classroom follow-up discussions after major debates. Faculty can have students reflect on the debates through presentations, papers, or classroom-specific debates, exploring relevant policy aspects.
- Encourage students to explore the complementary relationship between electoral choices and social movements, from the civil rights movement to the Tea Party and the gun regulation campaigns of the Parkland students.
- Talk about where candidates stand on key issues of student interest. Be accurate and fair, regardless of your own political views.
- Professors can give extra credit to students who participate in activities like sending texts or emails to their friends with voter registration-related hyperlinks, writing a report or hosting a conversation on why voting matters to them, or participating in election-related activities.
- See the article, My Vote Doesn’t Matter for ways to combat cynicism, written by CEEP founder Paul Loeb, UCLA’s Alexander Astin, and education writer Parker Palmer.
Foster student discussions. If enough students hold one-on-one or small-group election-related discussions, these can be powerful ways to engage their peers.
- Have teams hold one-on-one nonpartisan discussions where they’ll ask fellow students to pledge to vote, volunteer for election-related events, and help distribute nonpartisan election materials, like CEEP’s candidate guides. If they can motivate some of the students they talk with to join the nonpartisan teams, it’s a great way to multiply their impact.
- Hold formal and informal debates and discussion sessions in public places and residence halls where students can discuss issues and candidates and help decide how to vote.
- Help students personalize issues by publicly sharing their reasons for voting in ways that spark broader campus discussion.
- Delta Community College’s Democracy in Motion wall gives students a physical place to dialogue with others on public issues.
- Miami Dade’s “I Vote for” buttons allow students to publicly express key concerns.
- Students can also create video and social media testimonies on why they vote
- Hold dialogues that build bridges across political lines. Help students and community members to find common ground while respecting differing perspectives. CEEP has collaborated with Living Room Conversations (LRC) to create a dialogue resource on Does My Vote Really Matter?. LRC also offers dialogue guides for other loaded issues like immigration and student debt.
- Have political science, sociology, or communications classes survey other students for their perspectives, then publicize the results.
- Encourage specific campus constituencies to hold forums and educational events and comment in the student paper on how differing candidate stands can affect their lives, linking their particular experiences with the issues at stake.
- Veterans could discuss issues surrounding treatment of veterans returning home.
- Students with disabilities could address issues of accessibility and inclusion.
- The campus multicultural center or groups representing immigrant students could talk about candidates’ platforms on immigration or disparate racial sentencing.
- Screen election-related films such as Suffragette, Iron-Jawed Angels (discussion guide here), The Youngest Candidate or Journeys through the Red, White and Blue.
- Use apps and websites like Brigade and WeVote to see where you and your friends stand on issues, exchange perspectives, and connect with groups that are working to address them.
- Create a prominent place on your campus website where students can go for election-related concerns, and an easily accessible physical location where volunteers from your nonpartisan engagement team can answer questions and enlist volunteers.
Encourage students to sign a “Pledge to Vote.” Use online pledges like Rock the Vote’s or distribute actual cards for students to sign. Include information on:
- Where they’ll cast their ballot and how they’ll get to the polls, or when they will mail their absentee ballot, if necessary
- Who they’ll take to the polls with them. Voting with friends increases the likelihood of voting for everyone involved.
- What time works with their schedule on Election Day to go vote. Research shows that the more voters make concrete plans, the more likely they are to show up.
- Create opportunities for public pledges, where students commit before their peers to vote if eligible or encourage others to vote if they aren’t. You can do this in dorms, classrooms, in campus organizations.
- Have a clear plan for who keeps track of written or online pledges, where the information is stored, and how you’ll follow up.
VOTER EDUCATION CASE STUDIES
- Florida Atlantic University gave extra credit to 1,100 students who attended a Presidential Debate Watch party in their football stadium. You can do the same thing for Senatorial or Gubernatorial debates.
- New Mexico’s Santa Fe Community College joined with the city’s public radio and TV stations to create a series of 60-second ads on why youth voting matters.
- Bowling Green State University in Ohio held a contest where students submitted videos on why voting matters. The winning video was shown on TVs in the Student Union and, during commercial breaks on the residence halls movie channel and in every other visible location on campus.
- Miami Dade Community College ordered 4,000 “This is Why I Vote” buttons with their Center for Engagement’s logo and a blank space where students, faculty, and staff wrote in why they were going to vote, and students used these personalized responses to spark individual election-related conversations.
- University of Nevada Reno’s journalism school organized a team of graduate and undergraduate students to design and launch a website that provided statewide nonpartisan election information specifically tailored for students.
- Loyola University Chicago sent out two rounds of mailings to all students living on campus including both student voting rule guides and our non-partisan candidate guides. They also put together a detailed social media plan that included daily updates on where candidates stood on issues of student concern.
- A University of Kentucky journalism professor created a documentary about the importance of the youth vote that broadcast on public television statewide. His journalism class organized around the showing, getting campus administrators and student leaders to send out election questions on a school-wide app, distribute election-related banners and flyers, tweet election information, and advertise a mock election. The school newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel, ran our candidate guide, and the class also promoted and attended Lexington’s mayoral debate.
- University of Miami hosted a “Healthcare Games” event where the college Republicans and Democrats debated the Affordable Care Act.
- Virginia’s James Madison University was one of many schools that distributed CEEP nonpartisan voter guides in their student newspaper or adapted the guides for their own coverage. Wisconsin’s Viterbo University printed copies to put in every student mailbox, and numerous schools sent the guides out campus-wide via email
- Political Science Club at Colorado’s Red Rocks Community College organized a Fact Checker Voter Information Table. Student Life staff members helped with marketing and logistics, while the college marketing department published information on the school website.
- University of North Carolina at Greensboro held a “Voting 101” session to educate students on how to research candidates and issues and how and where to vote. They also did a whiteboard project in which they asked students to write down the issue that they cared most, then circulated pictures of their statements on social media.
- Delta College in Saginaw Michigan created Democracy in Motion, a triangular wall with a writable surface. Every two weeks, the Citizens in Action student club posted a different political topic on the wall, while students responded by writing their responses, generating a public dialogue. A cabinetry class constructed the wall with materials purchased through a grant offered by the college president. Delta also holds regular soapbox events where they set up a stage and sound system in the Commons during peak lunch times, allowing students to share about issues they are passionate about.
- University of Michigan-Dearborn hosted a Jeopardy game where questions highlighted election-related information.
- The same University of Kentucky journalism professor had his students use CEEP’s format to create their own guide for their Governor’s race, which they distributed on campus and which Kentucky Campus Compact distributed to other universities and colleges statewide.
- Richmond Virginia’s CBS affiliate aired student reports on the election from a Virginia Commonwealth University communications class. VCU communications students also created and promoted a widely read campus social media channel where student reporters covered the election and posted relevant stories from external sources.