Colleges Roll Voter Registation Into Freshman Orientation

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Every four years, college campuses are bombarded with volunteers trying to get register young voters, but this year many of these volunteers found that many of the students were already registered to vote. 

Many colleges have established their own voting registration drives during orientation, class registration, and through online initiatives. This has resulted in thousands of students ensuring their right to vote, by updating their addresses or requesting an absentee ballot from their home state. 

Dan Lewis, the director of Northwestern University's Center for Civic Engagement, one of the developers of the UVote project, claims that registration has become so difficult that, "You almost have to have a Ph.D now to figure out how to do it if you're not sitting in the same house for the past 20 years."

Dan Lewis has agreed with his university's president, saying that "We're not always going to have the incredible excitement among 18- to 22 year-olds that you did in 2008, so I think it's an obligation." He also agreed with the president's statement that, "We're supposed to teach citizenship." 

Mr. Lewis explained that last year at Northwestern they began to register incoming freshman to vote during orientation as they picked up their student IDs. This year Northwestern was able to register almost 95 percent of the eligible freshmen. Mr. Lewis also stated that the university had expanded the effort to several other campuses including the University of Illinois at Chicago and Stanford University. 

At Standford they used a similar method to get students to vote including registering students to vote while they waited on line to register their bikes with the university. This process lead to more than 700 new voters registered in two weeks.  

Shelby Taylor, the digital and communications director for the Bob Graham Center at the University of Florida, has also developed a method of registering more young collegiate voters. Her goal is similar to Northwestern's — to create informed, engaged citizens. However, the registration outreach programs for students at the University of Florida is fairly distinct from the hands on approach taken at Northwestern.

Ms. Shelby has said, "One of the first steps we took was identifying a program called Turbovote, that we could partner with, that allows students to register with online digital tools, update their addresses, request absentee ballots, and receive updates on voting deadlines. From self-reported data from surveys on campus, we found we had a high level of students who were registered to vote, but in different areas of the state. So a lot of students leave their vote at home. We took out adds in the student papers, local media, got featured on the news, and we had an email sent to every student from the president."

Ms. Shelby went on to say that the program has been successful, "within three hours of the president's emails, 400 signed up for the Turbovote service."

Both Lewis and Shelby were adamant about their outreach programs not having partisan motivations, emphasizing their desire to increase students civic involvement.

Guests:

Dr. Daniel Lewis and Shelby Taylor

Produced by:

Jacob Gash and Kristen Meinzer

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