REGISTER STUDENTS TO VOTE
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 about your state’s rules and timelines so students can follow them. CEEP supplies this information through guides and updates prepared by Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN). We also hold statewide webinars where you can talk directly to FELN lawyers.
- You can also get free wallet cards with voter ID rules from our partner VoteRiders.org. If your state has challenging voter ID rules and CEEP has active staffers there, contact your state staffer, who will make sure we’re allocating cards for your school. If we don’t have staff in your state, you can contact VoteRiders directly to ask about cards.
- Make sure everyone promoting registration understands residency rules and deadlines, which can be confusing for many students. Make it clear that students in every state have the legal right to register where they attend school, even if they’re from another state.
- Distribute information about Vote.org 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 as well as 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 available from CEEP or from organizations like Rock the Vote, TurboVote and Vote.org—or the customized version from 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. Students can use this code to register online or to print out a registration form and mail it 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 for 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 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 ranges from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the size and type of school. TurboVote will send you ready-to-sign voter registration forms and postage-paid, pre-addressed envelopes to make registration as easy as possible. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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, TurboVote or org links that you’ll integrate with your course registration pages, designed so that the default will be for students to register or update their registration information unless they consciously choose not to do so.
- If you have sufficient volunteers, you can adapt Northwestern University’s UVote model, which helps all first-year students register to vote when they receive their student IDs for the first time. Using peer-to-peer outreach, students can register with the mail-in forms of their home states, which Northwestern staff then mail to the appropriate election boards. This approach has helped the school register between 90% and 95% of incoming first-year students by the end of orientation week. For more information, email faculty member Michael Peshkin.
If students live on campus, register them at their residence hall addresses.
- Register students on move-in day.
- Have student organizations or residence advisors do a “dorm storm,” in which 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 competition between residence halls, Greek organizations or academic departments—or with a rival campus—to see who can register more students to vote or turn out more voters.
- If you have study-abroad programs, don’t forget to get students to request overseas ballots, ideally before they leave. They can do this through the Federal Voting Assistance Program.
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 according to the Supreme Court, they 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. Mailvote.org 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 potential way to 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 forms and collect them when completed, 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 your athletic department to follow Central Michigan University’s lead. Members of the CMU football team first registered to vote, then came out on the field during halftime and held up their registration cards while the Jumbotron linked to a campus website where others could register as well.
- If you have a campus marching band, engage them in creative ways. They can promote registration drives, lead Parades to the Polls and create general Election Day visibility.
- Station volunteers outside major events to register voters, collect pledges to vote and distribute candidate guides.
- Organize pledges to vote at public events where students publicly commit to vote if they’re eligible, or to encourage others to vote if they aren’t.
- Host ice cream socials, car washes and parties to register voters and have group discussions.
Get out from behind the registration tables—don’t wait for students to come to you.
- Many students won’t sign up just because they pass by a registration table. They may be cynical or intimidated by the voting process. But they’ll respond when peers actively reach out to them.
- When tabling, have volunteers approach fellow students with registration clipboards, or with registration tools on tablets, laptops or smartphones.
Create student-run, off-campus registration drives.
- Work with your Service Learning or Civic Engagement center to engage students who are already volunteering off campus. Ask if they’re willing to register the communities they reach. See Nonprofit Vote for resources to support community groups in doing this.
- Run separate campus-based drives in historically underrepresented communities nearby. Learn 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.
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.
- Create hashtags and QR codes for your election engagement site. Use them on election-related posters, banners and other forms of visibility.
- Send out campus-wide voice, text and social media messages for key registration-related deadlines. Include a 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 video as templates.
- The Ohio State University’s OSU Votes worked during welcome week and student move-in 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. They’ve since included campus janitors, housekeepers, groundskeepers and food service workers.
- Students at Norfolk State University created an “Each One Text One” approach—a phone tree series of text messages about registration and voting deadlines that recipients were encouraged to forward to their friends. New tools such as the Voteforce app make this kind of peer-to-peer outreach easier than ever.
- North Carolina A&T University registered over 12,000 students, staff, faculty and community members by combining on-campus registration with service projects. Students registered voters on six successive weekends in nearby low-income neighborhoods. The outreach culminated in a rally with live music, food and voter registration tables.
- At Michigan’s Delta Community College, teams of students competed to register their peers. Students who brought 10 or more people 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.
- University of Colorado Boulder and Colorado State University competed to register the most on-campus voters, with great success. You can also compete with another school on the highest percentage of registered voters who participate at the polls. Reports from the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) can help you determine the winner. The ALL IN Democracy Challenge works to foster these competitions and celebrate schools that have high or significantly increased participation rates.
- University of Michigan’s Voice Your Vote committee, sponsored by 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—that is, getting out from behind the tables or calling people over. Passive tabling (waiting for people to come to you) leads to fewer registrations.
- Illinois College held a voter registration drive during the football team’s pre-semester training and then followed up with a “vote with your coach” event during early voting.
Case Studies (Spring 2020)
- Fellows at Michigan State University hosted an “AbsenTEA Party” with a grant from RISEFree. They provided absentee voter ballot packets to student organizations across campus so they could host events.
- The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater held a Super Tuesday watch party and voter registration event, partnering with the political science department and the League of Women Voters.
- At Florida State University, Fellows created a “Presidents’ Day Trivia” event. While tabling, volunteers would ask students a trivia question and pass out candy. Then they invited students to register to vote for the presidential primary on March 17.
- Fellows at Florida International University hosted an event called “Love Letters to FIU.” They passed out candy and invited students to write on paper hearts what they loved about FIU. While the students wrote, Fellows asked if they were registered to vote—and helped them register if they weren’t—and reminded them to vote in the Florida primary.
- Students at the College of Southern Nevada held an “I Love Civics Festival” celebrating women’s suffrage and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. They also promoted voter registration and the upcoming census, and distributed registration forms, VoteRider cards and voting guides.