Engage the Election 2016 Webinar: Engaging Student Voters in a Modern Democracy

Engage the Election 2016 Webinar: Engaging Student Voters in a Modern Democracy

Join the TurboVote team and campus partners for “Voter Registration & Campus Technology: Engaging Student Voters by the Thousands.” The webinar takes place on Wednesday, August 24 from 2 p.m. – 3 p.m. EDT as a part of the ADP/TDC Engage the Election 2016 series. RSVP here.

turbovote-logo1Voting is the most basic form of civic participation we have in our democracy—one person, one vote. No matter political stance, line of work, or station in life, everyone can support the fundamental notion that conducting regular, nonpartisan elections furthers that idea. If a democracy that represents us all is the ultimate aim, a more inclusive democracy is the way to achieve it. Institutions of higher education have a valuable role to play in reaching that goal.

In fact, most colleges and universities have an obligation to promote civic participation by actively supporting their students in the voting process:

● A Dear Colleague letter from the Department of Education, released in summer 2013, reminds leaders of a provision included in section 487(a)(23) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 that specifically requires institutions to distribute voter registration forms to their students.

● The federal Higher Education Amendments of 1998 also requires colleges to make a “good faith effort” to distribute registration materials on their campuses.

For many of you, I suspect this information is not new nor are you interested in simply meeting minimum requirements. I imagine the question of “What could a ‘good faith effort’ look like?” is the more exciting – perhaps, daunting – unknown. While our shared goal of increasing youth civic participation brings us together, what brings us to the next level?

At Democracy Works, the home of TurboVote, we hope to answer that question. TurboVote is an application that makes voting easy. When you sign up, we keep track of your elections, local and national, and send you email/text reminders about important deadlines and dates. If you need to get registered, update your voter registration, or request an absentee ballot, we’ll get you all the forms and information you need, when you need them.

We connect with colleges and universities that use TurboVote everyday to talk strategy, new ideas, and, my favorite topic, how to improve our democracy. An equally valuable part of those conversations is acknowledging the difficulty of this work. From bureaucratic red tape to tabling fatigue, increasing voter registration on college campuses is difficult. Doing so in a way that has a dramatic, measurable impact is even harder.

To fulfill the spirit of the Higher Education Act, we need to embed voter resources into student life. We must institutionalize voter registration efforts on campus so democratic participation becomes second nature to all student voters.

In the first months of 2016, TurboVote partners across the country went to work conducting and aggregating research to identify best practices for integrating voter registration with campus web infrastructure. With funding support from the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation, TurboVote conducted our IT Integration Study to answer two main questions: What is the IT landscape of communication and education technology on campus communities? How does that relate to campus voter registration and engagement?

Our lead research team out of the University of North Georgia constructed a survey to be administered at a variety of higher education institutions. Survey respondents came from six target groups: IT, academic affairs, student affairs, communications, faculty, and student organizations. 24 TurboVote partner campuses participated in the study in an effort to uncover both the opportunities and obstacles to IT integration.

We learned classroom integrations, links within student portals, and mass emails are the best opportunities for collaboration with IT departments to promote voter registration. Dedicated staff and students are key to starting the conversation on campus and engaging stakeholders who, we learned, are willing to give this a try. We were excited to share our findings and see what next steps campus partners might take.

Little did we know, TurboVote implementers across the country quickly traded in steps for serious leaps. At Lone Star College in Texas, Director of the Center for Civic Engagement Dr. Theis worked with IT staffers to include a call-to-action banner on their student portal to register through TurboVote. Their TurboVote site has since seen over 1,600 signups.

Beginning in fall 2016, all Harvard undergraduate students will have the opportunity to register to vote, request an absentee ballot, or sign up for election reminders as a part of their mandatory online “check in” process. Executive Director of the Harvard Institute of Politics (IOP) Cathy McLaughlin spearheaded the effort on campus enlisting the help of the Harvard Registrar’s Office and Oracle, provider of PeopleSoft Campus Solutions.

As the fall election draws near, many other campuses are pushing the ball forward and working to integrate voter registration into the portals and pass-throughs students use everyday. We’re excited to share their success stories and personal experiences with the hopes of empowering many more institutions to raise the bar for voter engagement. After all, if we can embed voter registration in this way, we can greatly strengthen our efforts in other valuable areas of this work: voter education, mobilization, and creating all-around engaged citizens. Then, we won’t just be meeting federal requirements; We’ll be helping to create a more inclusive democracy.

Join the TurboVote team and campus partners for Voter Registration & Campus Technology: Engaging Student Voters by the Thousands. The webinar takes place on Wednesday, August 24 from 2 p.m. – 3 p.m. EDT as a part of the ADP/TDC Engage the Election 2016 series. RSVP here. We hope to see you there!

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