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Engaging College Communities in Elections

Election Administration

College students and communities often face unique challenges regarding the voting process, but this also represents opportunities for innovative engagement. In the video series “Engaging College Communities in Elections,” EAC Commissioner Ben Hovland had three discussions with leaders representing election officials, student advocacy groups, and college administrators about their work in college communities to not only meet the requirement of the Higher Education Act that institutions of higher education make a good faith effort to distribute voter registration form, but to engage student communities more broadly in the democratic process. 

Some distinct issues in serving the student population are:  

  • High mobility rates resulting in frequent address changes 
  • Generally being new to experiencing the voting process.  
  • Helping students navigate how to participate, which can be confusing particularly for students from out of the state 

To meet these needs, the three discussions highlighted the importance of partnerships between local election offices, institutions of higher education, and students for effective voter education and engagement initiatives. Molly Fitzpatrick, County Clerk and Recorder for Boulder County, CO, highlighted that her office regularly communicates with the University of Colorado Boulder and student leaders, which is critical for reliable and consistent voter information messaging. Sam Novey, Chief Strategist for the Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement at the University of Maryland, shared how the university worked with their local election officials to make voter information more digestible for college students, such as explaining recent changes to Maryland’s residency requirements to make it clear for students who would and would not be impacted.  

As Commissioner Hovland noted in the first discussion, “voting is habit forming and it is critical to engage young voters.” One of the best ways for students to learn about voting, especially being newer voters, is to directly participate in the process, such as by serving as poll workers. This is also beneficial for many election offices to fill additional staffing needs. Brianna Lennon, County Clerk for Boone County, MO, said her office has working directly with students through externships or project-based courses. Clarissa Unger, Executive Director of the Students Learn Students Vote Coalition, mentioned that Georgia State University fully student-staffed polling location on campus. Jennifer Domagal-Goldman, Executive Director of the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, added that some campuses have money to pay student interns or integrate into coursework, which can help relieve some of the burden on election offices when allowed. 

For election officials who may be looking to build a relationship or do not have a contact with their local school, Josh Young, Director of the Institute for Civic Engagement & Democracy at Miami Dade College, recommended reaching out to the college or university president and ask who the campus point person is – and if the school does not have one, ask if they would they be willing to appoint somebody to work with the election office. 

Some best practices shared by the election officials and subject matter experts for working in jurisdictions with college students:   

  • Ask students what voter support they need and how best to engage them 
  • Emphasize voter education efforts for the students, including highlighting laws, rules, and options and what those mean for them  
  • Communicate not only with the students, but also with professors and other school faculty members; they can help inform students and take advantage of existing institutional resources and communication channels 
  • Work with campus partners directly, including the universities and colleges directly through faculty and administration, and with student groups, including athletic teams, Greek organizations, and student government  
  • Monitor voter education engagement and tweak if needed based on real-time feedback  
  • Stay updated with fluctuating voter rolls as students move in and out, paying particular attention to address changes at the beginning and end of the school year  
  • Be adaptive in methods for reaching out, for instance engaging on social media or other platforms particularly utilized by students  
  • Consider having a satellite elections office or polling place on the campus for students   
  • Recruit students to serve as polling place volunteers 
  • When college students have a positive experience casting a ballot, they are more likely to become life-long voters. Through effective engagement, election officials who work with these communities can be successful in developing the next generation of voters.  

Watch all three discussions in this YouTube playlist.  

Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! 

Election Administration in College Communities 

  • Jacqueline Beaudry, City Clerk, City of Ann Arbor, Michigan  
  • Derek Bowens, Director of Elections, Durham County, North Carolina 
  • Molly Fitzpatrick, County Clerk and Recorder, Boulder County, Colorado 
  • Brianna Lennon, County Clerk, Boone County, Missouri 
  • Charlotte Sosebee, Director of Elections, Athens-Clark County Unified Government, Georgia 
  • Lisa McGlaun, Election Assistant, Athens-Clark County Unified Government, Georgia 
  • Jamie Shew, County Clerk and County Election Officer, Douglas County, Kansas 
  • Travis Weipert, County Auditor, Johnson County, Iowa.   

Engaging Student Voters in College Communities 

  • Clarissa Unger, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Students Learn Students Vote Coalition 
  • Jennifer Domagal-Goldman, Ph.D., Executive Director, ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge 
  • Marissa Corrente, Registrar of Voters, District of Columbia Board of Elections 
  • Yael Bromberg, Principal, Bromberg Law LLC and Rutgers Law School, Lecturer, Election Law & the Political Process 

Promoting Civic Engagement with Colleges and Universities 

  • Josh Young, Director, Institute for Civic Engagement & Democracy (iCED) Miami Dade College  
  • Leah A. Murray, Ph.D., Brady Presidential Distinguished Professor Director, Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service Weber State University  
  • Sandra Rodríguez, Ph.D., Director, ASUN Center for Student Engagement University of Nevada, Reno 
  • Amy Koeckes, Associate Director, ASUN Center for Student Engagement University of Nevada, Reno  
  • Sam Novey, Chief Strategist, Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement University of Maryland  
  • Tiffany Seawright, Director of Leadership & Engagement, Office of Leadership and Civic Engagement North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.