How do we engage America’s 20 million students in key elections? Our national nonpartisan Campus Election Engagement Project empowers America's colleges and universities to help their students register, volunteer in campaigns, navigate daunting new voter laws, educate themselves on candidates, and turn out at the polls. This tax deductible project has a huge multiplier effect for the resources invested, because we work through administrators, faculty and staff with salaries already paid for by their schools, plus student leaders, helping them use their key positions and resources to engage their students.
In 2016 we engaged 300 schools enrolling 3.5 million students, while partners and allies distributed resources to 1,000 more. Working through academic networks that the schools knew and trusted, we distributed powerful ways to get their students involved, then coached the schools to implement them, while building an ongoing campus culture of engagement.
Our approach uses the energy and resources of administrators and faculty along with student leaders. Instead of having to send separate staffers to each campus, our statewide organizers first approach schools through academic networks the schools already know and trust. Building ongoing relationships, they then serve as catalysts, resource providers, and coaches, helping the schools draw on creative and effective engagement practices of campuses nationwide. By leveraging existing campus resources, we get students to the polls at an extremely modest cost, engaging our 300 2016 schools for just $650,000. Our approaches include:
- Registering student voters at first-year orientation and when registering for classes. Just the schools that reported back registered nearly 80,000 students last year;
- Helping students navigate the daunting new voter laws;
- Distributing wonderfully received nonpartisan candidate guides (our schools distributed 140,000 last year--students say they’re a perfect antidote to a political context where “everyone’s lying and spinning”);
- Building campus engagement coalitions like Ohio State’s OSU Votes—we helped them launch in 2008. They’ve grown every cycle and will invest close to $50,000 of resources and volunteer time this year;
- Having administrators send out all-campus emails and social media reminders on key election dates--they reached over 800,000 students though emails and 230,000 through social media reach in 2016, while 260,000 people watched our video on close elections;
- Having campus football teams hold up their registration cards at half-time while the Jumbotron displays a registration link;
- Holding parades to the polls.
"CEEP was Miami Dade College's most important partner in our 2016 nonpartisan voter engagement efforts. They provided stipends, training, and support to their student Fellows, advice on putting together our election engagement website, and invaluable nonpartisan election and candidate guides. We love CEEP and want to continue to expand our partnership with them in the coming years."—Josh Young, Civic Engagement Coordinator of Miami Dade’s 165,000-student system
Beyond getting students to vote, we helped students learn to participate as engaged citizens, in ways likely to carry forward throughout their lives. We had a particular impact on the student Election Engagement Fellows who we recruited, placed, trained, and coached at 70 schools throughout our target states. These included the 133 Fellows who we funded directly with $1,000 stipends and 29 Fellows who schools funded or gave academic credit to in lieu of a stipend. Our state coordinators also helped train and coach 60 Fellows funded by our outside partners.
As a 2013 Virginia Tech Fellow, our now-Virginia director Tonya led a team that registered 3,000 fellow-students in an election where the Attorney General race turned out to be decided by 165 votes. Our Fellows at the 11-campus 165,000-student Miami Dade community college system, called their experiences “life-changing” and “the most important thing I’ve ever done.” You can get a sense of our inspiring Fellows on our website’s Fellows page, or, for added inspiration, view an interview with one of our University of Nevada Reno Fellows.
2017-2018--Laying the Critical Groundwork
A prime lesson from the past few years is that the more thoroughly we lay the early groundwork, the more deeply our schools engage their students come election time. So we’ve shifted to working with schools continuously, ramping up with greater intensity during peak election years. We’ll use 2017 to help campuses focus on the kinds of long leadtime solutions to voting obstacles that make a huge impact in student electoral participation, but take far too much preparation and staff time to implement last minute.
When we first took this approach in 2015, schools consistently told us that it made a major difference. So we’ll spend much of 2017 preparing schools for 2018, working initially with a stripped-down staff and budget, then expanding to full-scale as the elections approach. The ways we help schools engage now will play a critical role in their 2018 effectiveness. As before, we’ll focus our work in states where student voices can have the greatest impact, whomever they choose to support at the polls.
Our 2017 long-lead initiatives include:
- Obtaining on-campus voting stations;
- Securing or creating IDs for students to meet new state voting rules;
- Integrating voter registration into first-year orientation events and course registration;
- Preparing campus IT departments to help in the voter registration process and distribute other key information and resources;
- Developing ongoing campus-funded election coalitions, like Ohio State’s OSU Votes, or having student governments contribute to election activities;
- Fostering outreach in nearby low-income neighborhoods to register voters and arrange rides to the polls;
- Having schools sponsor Fellows with work study, administrative, or student funds;
- Encouraging faculty to offer election-related classes where they give credit for electoral participation; and
- Having schools use our Electoral Engagement Needs Assessment to build on their current efforts.
We're also developing new approaches and resources so schools can help students engage more actively as citizens, instead of withdrawing in cynical despair
- Helping students vote in local elections. 2017 elections in our prime states include Charlotte, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Miami, Orlando, Philadelphia, and St Louis;
- Distributing a classroom resource for faculty to talk about President Trump's proposed budget;
- Adapting our Supreme Court guide so students could weigh in on Judge Gorsuch's nomination;
- Developing discussion resources on other crucial issues, and helping students understand actions like Executive Orders;
- Teaching students how to speak out on key current issues, whatever their perspectives, and act effectively politically;
- Working with the founder of Living Room Conversations to create dialogues across political lines.
Virginia has important 2017 races for Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General, and we’ll work intensively to engage the state’s students. In 2013, the team led by our current state coordinator Tonya registered 3,000 Virginia Tech students when she was a CEEP Fellow—165 votes then decided the statewide Attorney General race.
This year, we’ll implement our full-court-press approach of working with faculty and administrators, sponsoring and training 25 student Fellows, creating and distributing nonpartisan candidate guides, and leading coordinated nonpartisan get-out-the-vote efforts in November. VoteRiders has committed again to provide voting-rule wallet cards, and Tonya has gotten key faculty to give credit for nonpartisan election volunteering.
We've had some good success with major donors and foundations, but are also working to build as large a base of grassroots supporters as possible. If enough people give $25, $50, or $100 it can make a major difference in expanding our reach. So please give whatever you can using the Razoo form 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, or the project's donation page on Razoo.com. Lastly if you or anyone you know is in a position to give $500 or more, please email and we’ll gladly send more detailed information on all we've accomplished so far and all that we'll accomplish, with your help, going forward.
Paul Loeb, Founder Campus Election Engagement Project
PS — No amount is too small, so please give what you can. And if you'd like to know more about the project and our financial needs please email and we'll be happy to send more information.