Information Critical to Turning Out the Student Vote

This article appeared in the Huffington Post on November 14, 2012.

The 2012 election is over and done with and pundits and politicians are beginning to analyze what happened in this year. The one thing that is clear: despite the punditry claiming there was less enthusiasm this year among young people, they ended up making the difference in the election this year. Voters under 30-years-old made up 19 percent of the electorate, according to exit polls, an increase from 18 percent in 2008. Of all eligible young voters under 30 years old, 50 percent (22 to 23 million)turned out to vote, making the difference in several states including Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Now that millenials, with more than 45 million potential voters, are the largest voting bloc in the country, their influence will continue to grow.

What helped turn these voters out? Providing information and registering young people to vote are two critical components for getting out the youth vote. Information on how to register, early and absentee voting, required ID, and where to vote is especially critical -- particularity for college students. College students face challenges that other voters, typically, do not face. For many students, this election was their first time voting. The process can seem intimidating, especially when they do not have the information they need to register and vote. They also often move to go to college and do not know they have a right to vote in their college community or are confused by ever changing voter ID laws and misinformation about their rights.

From past elections, what we do know is that when young people register to vote, they will vote. In 2008, among those 18-29 years old that registered to vote, 84 percent actually voted. As young people are making up a greater share of the electorate, it is important to figure out ways to reach them to register them to vote. One way is through the use of technology.

Online voter registration is an easy, convenient, and cost-effective solution to registering voters. Currently 12 states, with three more in the process of implementation, have an online voter registration system that allows voters to register and update their registration and the results show greater participation among the electorate -- especially young voters. According to exit polls in California, young voters 18 to 29-years-old made up 27 percent of the electorate on Tuesday; young voters only made up 22 percent in 2008. These numbers are no coincidence. California's online voter registration system was launched earlier this year and 61 percent of those online registrants were under 35 years old.

Campus Vote Project, a campaign launched by the Fair Elections Legal Network, recognized the power of the internet to help students register to vote. Young people spend considerable amount of time online and are comfortable with using the internet to connect with friends, search for information, or buy clothes and other goods they need. It makes sense that young people would benefit from online voter registration.

That is why Campus Vote Project worked with college administrators across the country to place voter registration widgets on their school's website to help students register to vote. These widgets allowed students to register to vote and helped with applying for an absentee ballot as well as provided reminders via email or text message for mailing back a completed absentee ballot or when to vote in person.

College campuses also utilized traditional voter registration drives to help students register to vote. On September 25, college campuses joined efforts across the country on National Voter Registration Day to register voters. Campus Vote Project coordinators and fellows helped organize these events on several campuses, including in Ohio and Pennsylvania in order to provide information on confusing voter ID and early voting rules that were constantly changing right before the election.

Connecting students to voter registration tools is not only the right thing for colleges and universities to do, it is their obligation. Hundreds of college and university presidents have signed a commitment through Campus Compact to help students embrace the duties of active citizenship and civic participation. Schools can do this by providing registration opportunities and providing voting information to their students as part of educating and encouraging them to be engaged citizens.

Once students are registered to vote, follow-up is needed to make sure they have the correct information about early and absentee voting, what ID is needed to vote, and where they vote during early voting or on Election Day. Campus Vote Project worked with student organizations and college administrators on campuses to create websites for students with voting information, place get out the vote ads in student newspapers, create student voter guidespalm cards and other materials to give to students, and provide trainings to educate and register students to vote.

A great example is the work Campus Vote Project did with the University of Cincinnati. After assessing student voter engagement needs on campus with students and administrators, Campus Vote Project worked with them to create an official university website on student voting that included the Campus Vote Project student guide for Ohio, a voter registration widget, and link and directions for the Hamilton County Board of Elections for early voting.

Informing students on where to vote is also important. At Ohio State University, many students that lived on campus assumed their polling location was on campus. However, many dorms were located in other precincts with off-campus polling sites. Conducting dorm knocks before Election Day with polling site information for that dorm can clear up confusion. Additionally, schools can help by sending a pre-election email or postcards to students with polling hours on Election Day and links to find their polling site location. Campus Vote Project worked with American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers to ask their individual registrar members to email their students with basic information students need to know to vote.

Schools can play a critical role in providing documents students can use when an ID with a local address is required. In North Carolina, Campus Vote Project worked with elections officials and administrators at North Carolina colleges and universities to allow the schools to provide a roster of on-campus students to local election officials so students only had to show their student ID as proof of residence for one-stop voting. Campus Vote Project also worked with over 20 campuses in Ohio to provide zero balance utility bills for dorm residents at private colleges and official letters for all students at public schools that they could use as voter ID on Election Day.

All of these efforts, from creating websites for students to providing easy to use online registration widgets to getting them the ID they need, helped turn out young people to vote this year. Moving forward, we must continue to embrace and expand the use of social media and the internet to continue to turn out young voters, and schools need to play a leading role. Campus Vote Project, in partnership with administrators, student government and other student organizations will continue to implement these strategies to ensure college students can exercise their right to vote.

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