How do we engage America’s 20 million students in the 2012 election? Campus Election Engagement Project empowers America's colleges and universities to help their students register, volunteer in campaigns, educate themselves, and turn out at the polls. This nonpartisan project has a huge multiplier effect for the resources invested, because it works through administrators, faculty and staff with salaries already paid for by their schools, helping them use their key positions to engage their students. In 2008, we engaged over 500 campuses in 14 states, enrolling 3 million undergraduates. Working through academic networks that the schools knew and trusted, we distributed powerful ways to get their students involved, then followed up by phone to ensure the schools implemented them. This personal outreach yielded powerful results, including addressing the kinds of registering and voting obstacles that have now gotten far worse.
As examples of our 2008 efforts, we began by steering Ohio campuses through the state’s complex election rules. We gave out micro-grants that helped students at the historically black North Carolina A&T register voters in adjacent low-income neighborhoods (their students registered 12,000 people on and off campus). We funded posters on same-day registration for every community college in Minnesota, helping students participate in what turned out to be a 312-vote margin U.S. Senate race.
We’re now running the project again for 2012. No other group is organizing college administrators, faculty and staff at every kind of school to get students involved, yet unless they are engaged through direct conversations, they tend to do little. Their lack of a coordinated effort contributed significantly to 2010’s four million-student electoral drop-off. But they can play a crucial role in engaging their campuses, implementing powerful approaches that no one else can replicate, including:
- Distributing templates for student IDs that pass the requirements of all the new laws, enabling students to register and vote without needing to purchase a state ID;
- Registering new students at first-year orientation;
- Broadcasting voter registration and election information links via QR codes on the Jumbotron at football games;
- Including links to Rock the Vote’s registration tool in online event ticketing and course registration systems; having IT departments distribute a new election information Smartphone app;
- And encouraging “dorm storms,” where Residence Life works with Student Affairs and Public Safety to relax normal security rules so student groups can register their peers door to door in the dorms.
We did variants of all of these and more in 2008. Once we engaged key administrators personally, they responded enthusiastically. We’re again working through the trusted networks of the prime higher education service learning network Campus Compact. For every additional $8,000 we raise at this point, we can hire a full-time person to engage 40-50 campuses in another key state, enrolling as many as 400,000 students. For every $4,000 we can fund a half time person or give out 10 more $400 microgrants, like the kind that helped engage the students of North Carolina A&T. We’re collaborating closely with Rock the Vote, the student PIRGS, the League of Women Voters, and other national higher education organizations, 30 of which circulated our most recent checklist on key ways to engage students in the election. We’re working with key election protection groups to help our State Compacts steer their schools through the new voting rules. As our partners consistently stress, no other project is in a comparable position to engage the people who run the campuses, so our outreach will increase their effectiveness too.
Campus Election Engagement Project emerged from my citizen engagement books, such as Soul of a Citizen, The Impossible Will Take a Little While, and Generation at the Crossroads—books with over 250,000 copies in print—and from my lectures at over 400 colleges. I'm volunteering a year without pay to help make the project happen this round, and we have over $100,000 of additional in-kind contributions.
But we still have to fund our core infrastructure—the organizers in our targeted states where student votes could again help determine the Presidential outcome or that of a closely contested Senate seat, whoever they choose to vote for. Hiring these staffers is particularly key given the restrictive new voting laws. Pennsylvania, for instance, recently passed a law invalidating 85% of student ID’s for identification at the polls because they don’t have expiration stickers. The head of Pennsylvania Compact is eager to come up with solutions for her 67 member campuses and others in the state, but her two other staffers are Americorps-funded, so can’t participate in even completely non-partisan registration-related projects. Funding another staffer for her will be critical so she doesn’t have to do everything on her own.
So we’re seeking to raise $370,000 to reach all the states where student votes will most make a difference, whoever they choose to support. We've raised $255,000, from donors including Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation, George Gund Foundation, Youth Engagement Fund, Mayerson Foundation, Puffin Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropies, Whitman Institute, the Riverstyx Foundation, the Wright Education Fund of the Seattle Foundation and various individuals, plus an additional $11,000 that I'm donating on top of my time. We've pretty much hit the limits of my networks, so hoping that grassroots donations can cover the remaining gap. We've raised over $12,000 through small grassroots donations so far. If enough people give $25 0r $50 it can make a major difference in our continuing to expand our reach. So please give whatever you can using the Razoo link above and invite others to support this project as well. If you'd like to fundraise for the project using social networking, please promote this page on Facebook and Twitter. Lastly if you or anyone you know is in a position to give $500 or more, please email and we’ll gladly send more info on all we accomplished in 2008 and will accomplish, with your help, in 2012.
Paul Loeb, Founder Campus Election Engagement Project
PS--No amount is too small, please give what you can. And if you'd like to know more about the project and our financial needs please please email and we'll be happy to send more information.