New Voter Registration approach at Columbia College Chicago

Posted by Columbia College Chicago on December 10, 2019

Professor Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin at Columbia College Chicago recently shared this info with with HE-SVE-Forum (Higher Education, Student Voter Engagement):

After years of attempting to convince my college to adopt something like the Northwestern University model of 50-state student voter registration, I finally accomplished something this year. I’m sharing it here with two goals:

  1. Perhaps something we’ve done or some of the resources we’ve created will be useful to some of you, and
  2. I’ve finally been invited to hire student workers to help, and I’d appreciate any and all suggestions for what qualities to look for and what responsibilities they should have.

This semester was a proof-of-concept for me. With the help of a graduate student I have reached 600 students (one third of our freshman class) and helped almost 500 of them register to vote where they prefer.

This is a highly distilled version, and I’d be happy to talk or email ( with any of you if you want more details.

Here’s what is currently happening at Columbia College Chicago:

I have partnered with a program that offers courses taken by almost all entering students (our equivalent of English Composition). This semester, there were 97 sections with 17 to 20 students in each. I presented at the Fall Instructors’ Plenary to explain the opportunity to the instructors. About half of them were present and all of those who were expressed enthusiasm about the idea.

Then I asked them to either invite me in to do a presentation and help students register to vote in class, or to do it themselves. Almost all preferred that I come in to their classes.

I have been invited into more than two dozen classrooms, where I give the presentations then walk the students through filling out this form (  Before collecting the forms from the students, we check them all, and take a photo of the driver’s license or state ID of any student wishing to register to vote out of state (half of our students are from other states). We also provide them with information about how to check on their registration status, and how to request a vote-by-mail ballot. Then my graduate student updates a spreadsheet of classes spoken to and students reached, I print the ID photos, and I send all materials to the appropriate state elections offices.

Link to slide deck:

Link to presentation:

I have also experimented with presenting to larger classes. We have another course taken by most first year students in class sizes of 80 to 120. The same in-class method works as long as I have trained assistants who can carefully check all the forms before we collect them.

Here’s what’s working well: 

  • The presentation is efficient and seems to be effective; participation is very high.
  • Walking through the form line by line prevents a lot of errors.
  • Checking forms prior to collecting them catches most of the remaining errors.

Here are the challenges:

  • I can’t visit every 20-student classroom myself (to catch every possible freshman).
  • If I visit larger classes, I need trained assistants to check forms and photograph IDs.
  • I need help keeping the spreadsheet (Serene is graduating) and mailing the forms to the states.
  • Next year, students will also need assistance voting by mail.

Here are some opportunities ahead:

  • I have an invitation to hire work-study students (undergrads).
  • We have a new student center with a front desk, where a trained student could help students register to vote and request vote-by-mail ballots.

I welcome your suggestions on any of this, but especially on how to craft a job description and qualifications for student workers.


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