Voter Registration Guides for College Campuses

Posted by on July 21, 2008


Organizing your campus to get students to vote and volunteer—Please help.

What if each of America’s colleges and universities registered their students as voters, helped them educate themselves on the issues, and encouraged them to volunteer in election-related projects and campaigns?  The impact could be huge, on both America’s future and the lives of students who participate. We now have the tools to make this happen, on a nonpartisan basis. But it’s going to take your help to get your campus fully involved.

Two excellent higher education projects now offer all the necessary resources to help your school engage students in precisely this way: the prime service learning network Campus Compact’s 2008 Campus Vote Initiative, and a complementary website, Your Vote, Your Voice. Their websites describe every possible aspect of what works and how to get your campus involved. But all their great work will go for naught unless individual colleges and universities use the examples, suggestions, and templates they’ve created. And there’s no comprehensive national follow-up effort to ensure that most campuses participate. So here’s what we’re asking from you:

* Involve your own students–but more important, take the lead in getting your campus as fully engaged as possible.  You can start with the concise CampusChecklist, which summarizes key approaches, lists all the key offices or departments to contact, and gives you great examples, explanations, and templates so you won’t have to reinvent the wheel. The companion campus election guide tells how to get people involved in your school.

* Integrate into current activities—then expand your efforts. Find out what’s already happening on your campus. Plan so you can fill gaps and strengthen existing efforts. Build a team involving as many key offices and departments as possible, plus anyone else who wants to help. Most campuses have some logical starting places—like the community service center and the office of student affairs–so check with them first, and with the president’s office. But anyone who is enthusiastic enough can help enormously, whatever their position. Top administrators or senior professors have recently launched full-scale voter engagement efforts at some schools. At others, the initiative came from a campus librarian, counselor, secretary, or engaged student. You may not know all the key people at first, but one office can usually lead you to another. If you get enough energetic people involved, together you can engage everyone else whose cooperation is necessary, and follow up to ensure they’re doing all they need to.

* Focus first on registering students to vote; then on getting them to volunteer and learn about the process, issues, and candidates; and finally on getting them out to the polls. Colleges and universities are legally mandated to do their best to register all eligible students, and most states’ registration deadlines are the first week in October. So you’ll need to move quickly to meet them. The 2008 Campus Vote Initiative offers excellent resources to help your campus register every eligible student., created by the PIRGs, has a wonderful on-line registration engine that you can customize for your school, with your school colors and logo, and post on high-traffic sites, like your main page, registration pages, and the pages people visit for athletic team schedules.

Your school can also encourage students to volunteer in the election, according to their individual political beliefs. Again, the Checklist, the Election Guide, and Your Vote, Your Voice and the 2008 Campus Vote Initiative offer excellent resources. You can help by connecting students with the national and local offices of the McCain, Obama, Nader, Barr, or McKinney campaigns, key local races, and groups like the College Republicans and College Democrats. Student involvement can also help engage underrepresented off-campus communities, like a leadership class at Ohio’s Baldwin Wallace College that registered 700 eligible inmates in Cleveland jails in 2004. Helping students to volunteer for candidates or election-related projects is particularly important, because once they start doing so, they tend to continue throughout their lives.

·        Draw in other allies and coordinate with other campuses. Campus Compact’s state offices are working to follow up in each state where they have offices, so let your state coordinator know you’re participating. If you’d really like to help, you could also contact colleagues at other campuses, and pass on this email. Departmental resources allowing, you could even support statewide election-engagement efforts by making service learning or work/study resources available as stipends for grad students (or energetic undergraduates) to help your state Compact with their outreach.

* Use the online tools. Campus Compact’s election engagement project has created a new mapping tool, similar to the one that helped FocusTheNation organize 1,900 campus teach-ins on global warming. It will let interested people at any given school connect with each other to help engage their campus, and help the state Campus Compacts see which campuses are already self-organizing, and which need follow-up reminders. If you enter your information, you can connect with, say, someone in residence life who finds out through their national association, or someone in the counseling office who gets engaged through theirs, and then all work together. So please enter your information so others can contact you using the mapping tool.

Campus Compact has also created a blog where people can post new inspiring examples and reflect on the challenges of engaging their campuses, and hope you’ll visit it here and post your own examples for others to learn from.

* Please do start now. To register and engage as many students as possible, your school will need a structure in place before students return for Fall classes. That’s particularly true if you want to engage them–and register them to vote–through programs like first-year orientation, by signing them up to vote when they move into the dorms, or by posting the online registration tool on the site where they register and change registration for classes.

In recent decades, far too many young people have doubted that their actions can make a difference. In this election, student votes and volunteering will matter, whoever they support. Their involvement could have a major impact on America’s future, while starting them on a political lifetime of political engagement. We hope you’ll help make this possible.

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