Engaging Your Campus in the 2012 Election -
6 Ways to Act!
Click to download.
Engaging Your Campus in the 2012 Elections— Six Ways to Act How do we engage America’s 20 million students in 2012 elections? The Campus Election Engagement Project worked with 500 campuses in 2008 to do exactly that. Drawing on this experience, we’ve compiled this list of effective nonpartisan approaches that colleges and universities can use to engage their students. We hope you’ll use this resource to help your students register to vote, learn about issues and candidates, volunteer in campaigns, and get to the polls, while ensuring their votes count despite all the obstacles.
Successfully engaging your students will depend on collaborating with others on your campus to follow through on your existing approaches and complement them with effective new ones. We’ve listed a lot of examples, but you can pick your favorites, do them at different points in the election cycle and divide them among different people on campus. Think of this as your election engagement checklist.
Key areas include:
I. Build a Team
II. Register Students to Vote
III. Educate on Issues and Candidates
IV. Encourage Student Volunteering
V. Create Visibility
VI. Get Out the Vote
II. REGISTER STUDENTS TO VOTE (Home) 1) Take the lead in helping get your students registered. The challenges may be harder now, but in 2008, 87% of students who registered ended up voting. Announce campus-wide goals and goals for departments or residence halls, both to measure progress and to motivate.
2) Find out your state rules and timelines, then provide critical information and resources. a) In Ohio, for instance, residential students at public colleges and universities need a letter from the president or chancellor to vote as local residents, while students at private schools ones need a school-issued zero-balance utility bill. In Pennsylvania, student ID’s require an expiration date to meet the state’s voter ID laws. b) If your school runs into hurdles trying to help your students register and vote, visit 866ourvote.org or call the 1-866-OURVOTE hotline to connect with voting rights experts who can advise you.
3) Make a coordinated effort to register students during orientation, registration and other key school activities. Register students at move-in day to campus residence halls.
a) Northwestern University’s U Vote initiative in ‘08 encouraged all freshmen to register to vote as part of the process of receiving their student ID for the first time. Students were able to register in any of the 50 states with each state’s mail-in form, and staff processed and mailed the completed forms to the appropriate Board of Elections. By the end of orientation week, nearly 90% of incoming freshman had registered. Contact Rob Donahue for more information.
b) If you’re a residential campus, work with student organizations to do a “dorm storm,” where they go door to door to register students where they live. (This requires residence life, student activities, and campus security to coordinate and waive normal security rules.)
4) Distribute voter registration forms
a) Include in course registration forms and have faculty distribute them with course materials and collect them later in class.
b) Mass mail paper registration forms and email online registration links to all students. Hold public events to collect the paper forms.
c) Keep records of students who are registering so you can follow up with email and text reminders. RockTheVote’s online tool includes the latter capacity.
5) Use all available technologies
a) Create a prominent link on the university homepage to the voter registration widgets of Rock the Vote or the student PIRGs. Promote this link through campus email listservs and by having it pop up when students register for classes or order tickets for entertainment or athletic events.
b) Display a QR code on the football stadium Jumbotron with links to a registration site.
c) Leave voice and text messages for key registration-related deadlines.
d) Provide reminders in unusual contexts and places (halftime of athletic games, intermission of performances, above restroom sinks or in stalls) -- Download free templates.
6) Work with your service learning center to have students register community members through their service work, particularly in underrepresented communities.
a) Nonprofitvote.org has excellent resources on what non-profits can and can’t legally do in terms of electoral involvement, so ask students to show these guidelines to the non-profits that they volunteer with and encourage them to register their constituencies.
b) Create student-run off-campus registration drives.
i) In 2008 North Carolina A&T University registered over 12,000 students, staff, faculty, and community members by combining on-campus registration with service projects where students registered voters on six successive weekends in nearby low-income neighborhoods.
7) Bring the vote to campus - literally! Work with local and state officials to host an on-campus voting station. Here's how Collin County Community College (Texas) did this.
8) Get students registering students
a) Encourage student and relevant off-campus groups (like the PIRGS) to register voters in public spaces, like campus quads and the student union and at football games and other events.
b) Encourage campus Republicans, Democrats and other political groups to do joint registration drives.
c) Host a registration or voter competition within or between residence halls or departments, or between a rival campus or statewide.
i. In 2008 Florida Campus Compact held a statewide video contest on the best ways for schools to encourage voter turnout. They also sponsored the Democracy Cup, where they gave cash awards for the best campus engagement projects, statewide. University of Miami students won for registering 4,000 students on campus and 10,000 off campus.
9) Help students choose whether to vote at home or at school. Deciding where to register determines which issues and races will be on their ballots, so is an important strategic decision. Students wanting to vote absentee in their home district/state will have different rules, procedures and deadlines from those on their campus. LongDistanceVoter explains absentee ballot options and provides resources to register either at school or at home. Their sponsored project, Countmore.org, helps students sort through which state has a greater impact to vote in if they have a choice.
10) Host a Party in which students must register or provide proof of registration to enter. Play music. Wear organizational t-shirts. Approach participants with clipboards for a more personal, one-one-one approach. Offer stickers to identify those who have registered.
11) If students are cynical about the election, remind them that they can wait to decide who to vote for, but they need to register by the deadline or lose their potential choice.
III. EDUCATE ON ISSUES AND CANDIDATES (Home)
1) Distribute and display non partisan information
a) Ask your election board or League of Women’s Voters for official nonpartisan VOTER’S Pamphlets for your area. Place copies in key locations. When Rock the Vote or the League create their nonpartisan voter’s guides this fall, distribute and publicize them widely, including online.
b) Display information on candidate positions in the student union, blown up large enough to be visible to passing students. Also information on state-wide initiatives, which are likely to be far less high profile, so a source of greater potential confusion.
2) Hold debate watch parties and follow-up conversations in major common spaces like large auditoriums or more intimate spaces like residential dorms. Follow up with classroom discussions.
3) Post and link to credible sites with info on candidate stands from high-traffic campus sites. Create displays highlighting them in libraries, study areas, dorms and other common areas, and steer students to them in courses. Key nonpartisan sites include Votesmart.Org, Factcheck.org, Politifact.com, and On The Issues.
4) Work with your student newspaper.
a) Ask them to explore specific policy differences between candidates—so students have more to go on than ads, sound bites and personality spin.
i) Ask them to include issues with particular salience to students, like the politics of student loans, federal and state support of higher education, the Dream Act, and the new voting laws.
ii) Ask them to also explore stands on more general issues from climate change to abortion, gay rights and tax and economic policies.
b) Encourage them to highlight misleading campaign ads using resources like the Annenberg School’s Flackcheck.Org, and encourage students to look at who’s funding them and use Annenberg’s resources to challenge their airing.
c) Encourage them to counter student cynicism by recalling close races where a handful of votes tipped the difference, like Florida’s 2,000 presidential vote, Minnesota’s 2008 Senate race, or Washington State’s 2004 governor’s race.
d) When the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote produce their nonpartisan voter guides, ask the paper to reprint them, link to them, adapt them, or otherwise cover them.
e) Once you form a campus election coalition, get members in the group to write a brief column for the newspaper with regular updates on campus election activities. Include both nonpartisan institutional activities and accounts of what groups like the campus Young Republicans and Young Democrats are doing.
5) Ask faculty to engage students via their courses.
a) Encourage them to explore the complementary relationship between electoral choices and social movements, from the civil rights movement to the Tea Party and Occupy movements.
b) As above, use sites like Flackcheck.Org, to explore misleading ads and come up with strategies to help them backfire, and steer students to sites like votesmart.org, Factcheck.org, Politifact.com, and On The Issues where they can find accurate information on candidate stands.
c) Encourage them to register and engage their friends.
6) Foster student discussions.
a) Hold formal and informal debates and discussion sessions in public places and residence halls where students can discuss issues and candidates and help decide how to vote.
b) Hold dialogues across political lines. Bring students and community members to find common ground while respecting differing perspectives. See the guidelines and manuals of the Public Conversations Project, those on the site of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, and the small conversations model of LivingRoomConversations.
c) Have political science, sociology, or communications classes survey other students for their perspectives, then publicize the results.
d) Encourage specific campus constituencies to hold forums and educational events and comment in the student paper on how differing candidate stands can affect their lives, linking their particular experiences with the issues at stake. For instance, vets could host or co-host a forum on our current wars or issues surrounding our treatment of veterans. Disabled students could address where candidates stand on issues of accessibility and inclusion. The campus multi-cultural center or groups representing immigrant students could talk about candidate stands on immigration or disparate racial sentencing.
e) Screen election-related films such as The Youngest Candidate or Journeys through the Red, White and Blue.
7) Create and distribute a sample ballot that includes local issues and candidates.
IV. ENCOURAGE STUDENT VOLUNTEERING (Home)
1) Talk of how students can multiply their impact by volunteering. Encourage students to volunteer at the polls or for initiatives and campaigns on Election Day and in the period leading up to it. Talk about how they can multiply the power of their individual vote by enlisting others. Again, mention races decided by as little as a few hundred votes, where grass-roots volunteers helped tip the outcome. Encourage them to knock on doors, make calls, or volunteer as poll-watchers with candidates of their choice—playing a critical role by getting others to vote who might otherwise stay home.
2) Ask faculty to require students to volunteer in campaigns of their choosing and report back through journals, papers or classroom presentations. Or to give incentives for volunteering, like extra credit. Faculty can’t mandate particular partisan allegiances when they do this—that would be wholly inappropriate. But they can encourage students to select campaigns that resonate with the students’ individual values, and encourage them to give voice to their convictions. The can also ask students to then reflect on their volunteering experiences, perhaps sharing them with the rest of the class. The more students get involved now, the more likely they’ll stay involved in the future.
a) In 2008, Dr. Tiffany Hansbrough of Ohio’s Baldwin Wallace College assigned her leadership students to volunteer with a campaign of their choice. She gave them the contact information for the McCain and Obama field offices and for the nonprofit Greater Cleveland Voter Registration Coalition, then required the students to volunteer for 15 hours with a presidential campaign of their choice, a local or state election race (including ballot initiatives), or a nonprofit group engaging in election-related activities. She also had her students log their experiences in journal entries, providing details about what occurred, the participants, and their impressions. After the election, students were required to write a paper evaluating their experiences.
3) Remind students that they can volunteer in their own voice, voicing their own complex feelings. If they’re ambivalent about Romney or Obama, for instance, but still distinctly prefer one over the other, suggest that when they do volunteer, they can voice their mixed sentiments, acknowledging areas where they have differences, yet talking about why they still believe their candidate is still worth electing. This is likely to draw much greater participation than if students feel they have to line up behind a set “party line.”
4) Publish campaign contact information (for all parties, candidates and initiatives) in the school newspaper and encourage students to volunteer in these ongoing efforts. Include campus-based partisan volunteer opportunities (like College Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians) or outside grassroots groups that will be involved in the election like the student PIRGS, or campus affiliates of the NAACP, the Tea Party, NARAL Pro Choice America, National Right to Life, etc, so students can easily participate.
5) Reach out to a variety of student organizations, not just the College Democrats, Republican, Libertarians, etc. These groups include, but are not limited to disabled students, veterans, LGBT students, and campus multi-cultural or diversity centers. As discussed, encourage these students to hold forums and educational events for the general campus, as well as reaching out to their own specific groups. If you have living/learning communities, follow Virginia Commonwealth University’s example and have them make election-engagement a core common theme.
6) Encourage students to sign up as nonpartisan poll-workers (and even get paid), including at the precincts where their fellow-students will be voting. Work with your local county clerk to arrange this. Law students can volunteer with the nonpartisan Election Protection coalition.
7) Remind students that they can volunteer not only in their own state, but by telephone in other key states either with particular major campaigns or allied partisan groups like MoveOn.org or Tea Party Patriots.
V. CREATE VISIBILITY (Home) 1) Plan coordinated election activities
a) Use the Campus Election Engagement Map to connect with interested administrators, students, faculty, and staff on your campus and in your area.
b) Enlist key campus leaders to help register and engage students. Include deans, orientation directors, student affairs officers, service learning coordinators, registrars, IT departments, residence life, campus newspaper advisors, faculty development, coaches, and academic departments, as well as key student leaders.
c) If you’re a high-enrollment campus, invite your local county elections supervisor to speak. Columbus State Community College (OH) did this, as did Nova Southeastern University (FL), while Colorado Compact had Denver’s supervisor address a state-wide student gathering.
2) Get students to sign a “Pledge to Vote,” creating a card for them to sign or sending them to sites collecting online pledges, like Rock the Vote’s, where they can commit to showing up at the polls.
a) Encourage faculty to distribute pledge cards in class and allow class time for students to research issues and candidates plan how they’ll cast their ballot.
b) Follow up with emails and text reminders on key dates, which the Rock the Vote and PIRG tools allow you to do.
c) If you create your own pledge card, it should include: Places for people to make specific commitments to themselves about when they’ll learn about issues and candidates and decide how to vote; How they’ll actually cast their ballot (polling place, home via absentee, or by early voting); How they’ll get to the polls (bus, walking, driving) and What time they’ll go or fill out and mail their absentee ballot; What they’ll take with them to vote (e.g., id, sample ballot, directions to polling place); And who they’ll take to the polls. Voting with friends increases the likelihood of actually voting and gets others to vote as well.
3) Set up mock polling places and hold mock elections, perhaps in the student union, with sample ballots and related information for students to practice voting and consider how they’ll vote. University of St. Francis (IN) did this as part of their registration drives. Such dry runs can assure new voters they’re bringing the proper ID and filling out the ballot as they intend. They also encourage them to learn about issues and candidates before November 6th.
4) Hold rallies leading up to the vote. North Carolina A&T’s 2008 “AGGIES Get Out to Vote” rally included live music, food, and voter registration tables. The school estimated their voter engagement efforts reached 12,000 students, faculty, and community members.
5) Capture students’ attention with Guerrilla theater:
a) Use flash mobs and theater to gather crowds in visible places and then hand out voter pledges and registration and voting information. Entertain as you engage and educate.
b) In 2008, Community College of Denver ordered Obama/McCain masks and gigantic blow-up boxing gloves and used them to hold mock fights and breakdancing contests all over campus. Colorado Compact then distributed the masks and gloves to all the community colleges in the state, and people said they were enormously successful in galvanizing interest. The masks are $7-$18 each and are orderable here for Romney and here for Obama. And here’s where you get the $15 giant boxing gloves.
c) Hold flash mobs or skits about voting, or to publicize key events. At Florida State in 2008, students formed a flash mob, gathering in the student union with t-shirts promoting the voting date and slogans like “I vote for education” or “I vote for health care.” They froze for five minutes to let the crowd look at them. Then they moved on, did the same thing elsewhere on the campus, and repeated it again. Similarly, Eastern Michigan University students wore orange arm bands listing issues they cared about, using them to start election-related conversations.
6) Use Halloween to highlight the election:
a) Trick or Vote encourages canvassing on or around Halloween with templates and examples. Take advantage of parties to spread, voter education, voter rights, and get out the vote messages.
b) Hand out candy messages. Get some bags of candy and stick or tie small messages to them (“Vote Nov 6”, “Bring ID to the polls”, “What time are you voting?”, or “How are you getting to the polls?” Then put on a costume (or not) and hand them out on campus (having more information available can be helpful but people are much more likely to take a flyer if it comes with a piece of candy).
c) Hold Halloween parties with election-related themes--Minnesota’s Anoka-Ramsey Community College held one called “Are You Scared to Vote?”
7) Create a visual presence to encourage voting, remind of key deadlines, and educate about what to bring to the polls.
a) Display posters, banners, signs and sandwich boards (as permitted)
b) Create posters on your own, by using Campus Compact’s existing templates, or by working with your state Compact to create statewide informational materials. Hand out stickers to go on everything from book covers to water bottles to bicycles.
c) Create voter-participation commercials to play on the football stadium Jumbotron. Central Michigan University did this with CMU athletes and volunteers. Include QR codes that link to online registration sites.
d) Provide chalk so students can draw messages and images on campus walkways to encourage voting, share key websites, and announce activities.
8) Hold absentee ballot parties. Westfield State (Mass.) held an absentee ballot party with snacks. Students could get their necessary ID info photocopied while privately casting their ballots, addressing them, and stacking them to be mailed. Other schools gave students stamps to mail back their ballots.
9) Use old and new social media to promote campus events, remind of key deadlines, and connect students with the Twitter and Facebook sites of candidates they might support.
a) Use social networking sites to carry your messages. Use existing groups and cause networks. Encourage students to post onto their sites encouraging their friends to vote. Suggest student organizations promote election-related events through their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.
b) Write op-eds and letters to editors to the student newspaper and local newspapers about the importance of each person’s vote, campus initiatives to engage students and such. Encourage students to carve out the time both to make educated electoral choices and to make a concrete plan on when and how to vote. Remind people to bring the necessary ID and be prepared in case lines are long.
c) Consider placing Facebook ads targeting students on your campus. Perhaps do a new ad each day in the period close to the election with a slightly different message, including a countdown to remaining deadlines and to Election Day.
VI. GET OUT THE VOTE (Home) 1) Use today’s technologies.
a) Work with your campus IT department to send reminder emails, voicemails and texts to every student.
i) Messages can include links to resources such as www.govote.org where students can find out where to vote and what they need to bring, and sites where they can verify registration. Encourage students to make a logistical plan for how and when they’ll cast their vote.
ii) Ideally send at least one message before the absentee ballot ordering deadlines as a reminder for those cannot get to their polling places or vote in other states. Send follow-up messages leading up to the election, and then a final message on November 6rd to remind all students to vote.
iii) Check that key campus websites have updated information, like links to key voter information sites including the 866ourvote.org voter protection site. Include a countdown to Election Day.
iv) In the weeks before the election encourage students, faculty, and staff to set computer homepages to nonpartisan voter education sites like Project Vote Smart.
b) Ask students to text, tweet and send Facebook messages to their friends with voting reminders leading up to Election Day and on the day itself.
2) Encourage early voting. Early voting avoids jammed schedules or long polling place lines, plus gives students the chance to correct any problems. Piggyback early voting efforts with reminders for students to vote absentee if they’re from other states.
3) Hold get-out-the-vote rallies leading up to Election Day.
a) North Carolina A&T’s 2008 “AGGIES Get Out to Vote” rally included live music, food, and voter registration tables
4) Help Students Get to the Polls
a) Hold parades to early voting sites or polling places like the University of Colorado-Denver did in 2008.
b) Schools where sites are further away can do this with carpools.
c) Publicize polling locations– include directions, hours, and transportation options.
d) If your prime polling place is off-campus, encourage your campus to rent buses or vans to shuttle students from campus to their polling places, posting departure and return times in central locations. Also have a central site to arrange carpooling rides.
e) See if local transportation authorities can run special buses, as they would for major stadium events.
f) James Madison University’s 18,000-student campus got 10,000 people attending a series of convention and debate-watch parties, then arranged election-day vans and buses when local transportation authorities refused to help.
g) When University of Southern Mississippi’s van driver surveyed students he shuttled, two thirds said providing this service made the difference in their voting.
5) Ask faculty to let students miss classes, if need be, to vote. This is particularly valuable at community colleges, where students often have little time between work and school, so can’t afford to stand in long lines. In 2008, Virginia’s Liberty University cancelled all classes on Election Day and scheduled shuttle buses to take students to the polls. They replaced the usual academic routine for their 10,500 students with an all-day concert that morphed into an election party.
6) Make voting reminders highly visible … and creative.
a) Organize election-day dorm storming. Knock on doors and offer rides or company going to the polls to registered students considering staying home. Make “I voted” buttons or stickers to give to students who’ve voted. Invite others to get theirs once they do.
b) Phone bank all registered voters for whom you have phone numbers, especially those whose contacts you gathered during registration drives. If you have no records of your own, the county election board may have lists of those registered from your campus.
c) Encourage “Take a Date to the Polls” and “Real Friends don’t let Friends Vote Alone” messages to foster support within peer groups (publicize through posters, fliers, text messages, Facebook ads, etc).
d) Mention voting wherever students are present in the week before voting: in class rooms, on posters around campus, on the campus radio station, at sports events, in email signatures, at dorm meals, as inserts in the school newspaper, in restaurants where students congregate.
7) Make sure students’ votes count – Protect their voting rights.
a) Publicize state voter ID requirements and provide all necessary materials, like letters from the president or the right kinds of student IDs.
b) Educate students about potential voter intimidation practices and how to avoid being turned away at the polls.
c) Stay in touch with your state Compact for updates on last minute changes or attempts to make voting more difficult.
d) Encourage student groups to organize poll watching activities to guarantee voter rights.
e) Distribute the 1-866-OURVOTE hotline so students can call for expert advice if problems develop or they think they’re being unfairly denied their rights at the polls. In 2008 this number made all the difference in states like Virginia where some local poll workers initially refused to accept legitimate forms of identification.
8) Make voting a community activity.
a) Encourage students to participate together.
b) Encourage local restaurants and businesses to give special discounts to students with “I voted” stickers.
9) Plan for entertainment and snacks near the polling places while students wait in line or wait for their friends to make it through. University of Minnesota hosted a Party at the Polls at their 50,000-student campus: printing posters and flyers to publicize the day; providing hot beverages and snacks to encourage students to withstand lengthy voting lines despite bitter cold; and bringing laptops to answer last-minute questions regarding local races, same-day registration rules, and which precinct to select.
10) Plan election night parties to watch returns in student unions, dormitories, fraternities, sororities, and other places where students gather. Require proof of voting to get in. Also distribute a list of community parties around town so students can join in with those who’ve volunteered in the campaigns.
11) Celebrate your good work, rest and relax. Then plan ways to continue engaging your campus whoever wins the vote in November.
Produced by the Campus Election Engagement Project a nonpartisan effort to help colleges and universities involve students in the election, working primarily through the state affiliates of Campus Compact and other partners like Youth Service America. For more info, or to share ideas, email us here.