How do we get America’s 20 million college students to vote in the critical 2017-2018 elections? They face obstacles from daunting voting laws to their sense that “my vote doesn’t matter.”
Campus Election Engagement Project (CEEP), addresses this in a powerful and cost-effective way by helping colleges and universities use their extensive institutional resources and networks to help their students register to vote, educate themselves on candidates and issues, navigate the new voting laws, volunteer in campaigns, and show up at the polls. Because individuals who vote when young tend to continue, and because we help schools deepen their electoral engagement each cycle, we generate both effective voter mobilization and long-term impact on students and their schools—a hopeful approach in these challenging times.
Our national nonpartisan approach has a huge multiplier effect. The administrators, faculty, and staff who our energetic state organizers engage have their salaries already paid for by the schools. Student leaders they recruit contribute additional resources. Our organizers serve as catalysts, resource providers, and trusted guides, coaching schools through approaches drawn from campuses nationwide. After helping students participate in the closest 2016 elections, we’re now engaging them in 2017 states like Virginia, and preparing schools for the key 2018 races, challenging a trend where just 17% of 18-24-year olds voted in 2014.
Our Core Approach: Engage the Resources of the Schools
Addressing both the structural barriers to student voting and student cynicism, we help schools:
- Register student voters at first-year orientation and when registering for classes.
- Navigate students through daunting new voter laws.
- Send out all-campus emails and social media reminders with key election dates and information.
- Distribute our nonpartisan candidate guides, which students say give a perfect antidote to a political context where “they’re all the same” and “everyone’s lying and spinning.” Because the guides come from the schools, the students trust them, saying they let them “see where candidates actually stand.”
- Help campus newspapers become key election hubs for their schools.
- Build campus engagement coalitions like Ohio State’s OSU Votes, which CEEP helped launch and which now invests close to $50,000 of resources and volunteer time in each major election season.
- Have students register voters in underrepresented off-campus communities, like the voter registration partnership of Virginia Commonwealth University and a nearby public housing project, or engage them in issues like a Florida initiative to restore rights to 1.6 million disenfranchised felons.
- Celebrate voting through events like Debate Watch parties and Parades to The Polls.
- Build a culture of electoral engagement cycle-by-cycle, so schools become increasingly committed.
Tangible Impacts: CEEP 2016 Accomplishments
Based on the third of our campuses that tracked and submitted their data, we had a major 2016 impact for the $680,000 our philanthropic partners allowed us to invest. This group alone:
- Registered 78,000 students to vote (38,000 by our student Fellows and teams, and 40,000 through other CEEP and partner initiatives).
- Mobilized 3,200 student volunteers.
- Distributed 140,000 copies of our nonpartisan candidate guides to the presidential race, plus our Senate, governors’, and Supreme Court guides, with key guides also distributed in Spanish.
- Reached 800,000 students with all-campus emails and 230,000 through social media channels, with both including further links to our guides.
Developing New Leaders: The Power of Election Engagement Fellows
CEEP also supports Election Engagement Fellows, students who get $1,000 stipends to work with college staff and student leaders to carry out our approaches and recruit and lead volunteer teams of their peers. As a 2013 Virginia Tech Fellow, our current Virginia director, Tonya, led a team that registered 3,000 fellow-students in an election where the Attorney General race was decided by 165 votes. These students greatly magnify our impact and gain critical skills and experience as they engage their peers, navigate complex campus bureaucracies, and begin to discover the power of their actions. They’ve called their involvement “life-changing,” and “the most important thing I’ve ever done,” saying their conversations across political lines gave them “insight into what it really takes to keep a democracy on a healthy path.” They're a key part of our 2017-2018 plans, and you can get a sense of their stories here or view an interview with a Fellow from University of Nevada, Reno.
Building engagement infrastructure—How 2017 is key
Working steadily since 2012, we’ve learned that the more we lay the early groundwork with the schools, the more students get engaged come election time. So we now work with campuses continuously, although more intensely during peak election years. Our stripped-down 2017 staff is continuing to build momentum by helping schools focus on the kinds of long lead-time solutions to voting obstacles that make a huge impact, but take far too much preparation to implement last minute. These include:
- Developing ongoing campus-funded election coalitions like OSU Votes, and having schools sponsor Fellows by using work study, administrative, or student government funds, or by creating courses that give academic credit for electoral engagement.
- Using our resource for faculty campus-wide to talk about President Trump’s proposed budget.
- Integrating voter registration into first-year orientation events and course registration.
- Obtaining on-campus voting stations and securing IDs for students to meet new state voting rules.
- Having schools create coordinated plans drawing on our Electoral Engagement Needs Assessment and their campus voting patterns.
How you can help us engage America’s students
With sufficient funding, we’ll increase our state staffing levels dramatically in 2018, as we have in every major election since 2012. Whoever students vote for, we hope to give them their voice in every state with close Senate or Gubernatorial races, and possibly others with additional close House races. Ideally, we’ll fund one to three Fellows each at the largest schools, particularly ones serving historically underrepresented populations. We’ll also continue to create key state-specific resources like our nonpartisan candidate guides, so students can understand the profound impact of their electoral participation. In all cases, we’ll help schools build on existing momentum to continually increase campus engagement. We’re raising $280,000 to support our 2017 staff and Virginia Fellows and $750,000 for our 2018 full-court press.
Securing early resource commitments is key to making the maximum 2018 impact. This will allow us to hire our additional state staffers at the beginning of 2018, so they can work as intensively as possible with their schools. Early commitments will also let us hire our Fellows during spring, train them over the summer and have them hit the ground running in fall—something schools have repeatedly requested. We’ve built strong campus relationships and created an impactful and cost-effective approach. If you recognize the importance ooofof getting young voters to participate, we’d love to talk.
For more information visit www.campuselect.org or contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-935-9132 (Pacific time).
Download the PDF version of our CEEP 2017 Summary with images.