REGISTER STUDENTS TO VOTE
The 2008 reauthorization of the Federal Higher Education Act requires colleges and universities to make a “good faith effort” to distribute voter registration materials to all students. Here’s how to take the lead in getting your campus community registered, including helping students change their registration to vote locally.
- Provide information and resources on your state’s rules and timelines so students can meet them. CEEP supplies this information through guides and updates prepared by Fair Elections Legal Network. We also hold statewide webinars where you can talk directly to FELN lawyers.
- Make sure everyone promoting registration understands residency rules and deadlines, which can be areas of confusion for many students. Make it clear that students in every state have the legal right to register where they’re attending school, even if they’re from another state.
- Distribute information on long-distance voting for students who prefer to vote from their home addresses.
- Work with local and state officials to secure an on-campus voting station. This takes some lead time, but can significantly increase turnout by making it easier for students to vote. See our resource on how Collin County Community College got an on-campus polling place
- Announce campus-wide goals and goals for departments or residence halls, both to measure progress and to motivate.
- Remind students who are cynical about candidates or elections in general that they can wait to decide whom to vote for.
Use online registration tools from organizations like Rock the Vote, TurboVote, or the customized version from the student PIRGs if you have a local PIRG chapter. You’ll still need to do a lot of other things to fully engage your campus, but these can be useful tools.
Rock the Vote’s online registration tool is well tested and easy to use.
- They’ll provide a simple embed code to use on your campus websites, which allows students to register online, or complete online forms, print them, and mail them in with the necessary signatures and identification. Co-branding this tool with your school logo will help you integrate it into classroom registration or ticket sales for campus concerts or sporting events, and lets you track registrations and voter turnout of those who’ve used it, while protecting individual privacy.
- Rock the Vote will send state-specific electronic reminders of dates and deadlines to all students registered through their tool.
If you can add it to your budget, TurboVote is another great tool for registering students to vote.
- TurboVote is a similarly customizable “one-stop” voter registration and engagement platform that helps students register to vote, request absentee ballots, and cast their ballots successfully. Users receive text and email reminders with essential election information, dates and deadlines, including for local elections.
- The grant-subsidized cost varies based on size and type of school, with a maximum cost of $4,000. TurboVote will send you ready-to-sign voter registration forms and provides pre-stamped and addressed envelopes to make registration as easy as possible. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Make a coordinated effort to register students during first-year orientation, class registration and other major activities.
- Nothing will register more students than integrating voter registration with course registration, because it involves all students. Ask your registrar to work with the IT department to set up a page with Rock the Vote or TurboVote links that you’ll integrate with your course registration pages, designed so that students will need to make an active choice to not register or not update their registration information.
- Work with the team that organizes new student orientation to register students when they arrive or during first-year experience seminars. Northwestern University’s Uvote model, which helps all first year students register to vote when they receive their student IDs for the first time, has been widely replicated using peer-to-peer outreach. Students can register with each state’s mail-in form, and staff mails the completed forms to the appropriate Boards of Elections. They’ve been able to register between 90 and 95% of incoming freshmen by the end of orientation week. For information email Program Manager Heidi Gross at email@example.com.
If students live on campus, register them at their residence hall addresses.
- Register students on move in day. Have student organizations or residence advisors to do a “dorm storm,” where students go door to door to register their peers where they live. This will require coordination between Residence Life, Student Activities, and Campus Security to organize the event and waive normal security rules.
- Host a registration or voter participation competition within or between residence halls, Greek organizations, academic departments, or with a rival campus.
Encourage students who are already registered to re-register on campus, to make it as easy as possible for them to participate. Most students don’t know that the Supreme Court has ruled that students can make this choice without providing a reason.
- Students often end up not voting because they can’t drive home on Election Day.
- Students wanting to vote absentee in their home district/state will have different rules, procedures and deadlines from those on their campus. LongDistanceVoter explains absentee ballot options and provides resources to register either at school or at home.
Distribute and collect voter registration forms in classrooms. If enough faculty members participate, this is a way to potentially reach all students in a school.
- Ask faculty to distribute registration forms along with course materials and collect them later in class or set aside time for students to fill them out online.
- Visit classes to make a “pitch” for voter registration, to hand out and collect completed forms, or to have students register online.
- Invite representatives from your local registrar or the League of Women Voters to train students for classroom outreach, and then have them register their peers.
Take advantage of campus social and athletic events, where attendance and excitement are high and local “celebrities” can promote voting.
- Work with the athletic department to follow Central Michigan University’s lead, where their football team came out on the field during halftime and held up their voter registration forms while the Jumbotron linked to a campus website with information on how to register to vote.
- Station volunteers outside major events to register voters, collect pledges to vote, and distribute candidate guides.
- Host ice cream socials, car washes, and parties to register voters and have group discussions.
Create student-run, off-campus registration drives.
- Work with your Service-Learning or Civic Engagement Center to have students who are already volunteering with off-campus projects work with these projects to register the communities they reach. See Nonprofit Vote for resources on how community groups can do this.
- Run separate campus-based drives in nearby historically underrepresented communities. Use our resource on how Virginia Commonwealth University students partnered with the tenant’s union of the nearby Mosby Court public housing project to register voters, help felons restore voting rights and arrange rides to the polls.
Get out from behind the registration tables — don’t wait for students to come to you.
- Students respond when peers actively reach out to them, but many are cynical or intimidated by the voting process, so won’t sign up just because they pass by a registration table.
- When tabling, have volunteers get out from behind the table to approach fellow students with registration clipboards with registration tools set up on Tablets, Laptops, or SmartPhones.
Use all available technologies and use them to complement each other.
- Create a prominent link on the university homepage to your election-engagement website and voter registration resources. Promote these links through campus-wide email, social media blasts and pop-ups on pages where students order tickets for entertainment or athletic events.
- Integrate a QR code linked to your election-engagement site into election-related posters, banners, and other forms of visibility.
- Send out campus-wide voice, text, and social media messages for key registration-related deadlines that link to your registration tool.
- Create a simple campus-specific video on why voting matters. You could use Bowling Green State University’s or Virginia Commonwealth University’s as templates.
VOTER REGISTRATION CASE STUDIES
Ohio State University’s OSU Votes worked during welcome week and student movein to register students as they arrived on campus, then conducted a coordinated effort to educate the campus on the issues and get students out to the polls. In 2012 they included campus janitors, housekeepers, groundskeepers, and food service workers.
Central Michigan University’s football players held up their registration cards during the half-time of a major game, while a Jumbotron linked to a website with voter registration information.
Students at Norfolk State University created an “Each One Text One” approach — a phone tree series of text messages to remind their friends of registration and voting deadlines, and encourage them to forward them to other friends.
In 2008, North Carolina A&T University registered over 12,000 students, staff, faculty, and community members by combining on-campus registration with service projects where students registered voters on six successive weekends in nearby low-income neighborhoods.
At Michigan’s Delta Community College, teams of students competed to register their peers: Students who brought 10 or more individuals to register won DeltaVotes! t-shirts, and the team that engaged the most peers won a pizza party.
At Philadelphia’s Drexel University a Civic Engagement 101 course incorporated a “Why Voting Matters” component to discuss voter registration and the importance of youth voting.
In 2012, the University of Colorado Boulder and Colorado State University competed to register the most on- campus voters, with great success. You can also compete — using the Rock the Vote or TurboVote registration tools — on the highest percentage of registered voters who participate at the polls.
CEEP projects in Florida, Virginia and several other states sponsored the Democracy Cup. Awards were given for the best campus engagement projects statewide. University of Miami students won the first Cup for registering 4,000 students on campus and 10,000 off campus.
University of Michigan’s Voice Your Vote committee, sponsored by their student government, conducted a series of dorm storms and set up locked mailboxes around campus for students to drop off registration forms for the city clerk to pick up.
Virginia Tech’s 2013 team registered 3,000 students through active tabling — getting out from behind the tables, calling people over, etc. Schools where teams wait for students to come to them tend to register a much smaller number.