Students determined to increase voter turnout


With the upcoming elections, students and organizations on campus are working to increase voter turnout on campus. 

Webster University students and staff are working to encourage greater voter turnout this election year. Blain McVey, president of Webster University College Democrats, set up a voter registration booth on Feb. 11 and 12, in hopes of getting students registered for the primary election.

“I don’t want them to wake up on March 10 and say, ‘Oh my gosh, did I register to vote? Can I even vote?’” McVey said. “I just want to be out there visible for people to see and remind them to make sure they’re registered.”

Only 19.7% of college and university students voted in the 2014 midterm election, according to a report from Tufts University. That number roughly doubled to 39.1% in 2018.

Sophomores Mary Michel, left, and Liska Hromnak, right, register to vote on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020 in the East Academic Building. Photo by Christine Tannous.

According to a 2014 versus 2018 National Study of Learning, voting and engagement campus report on Webster University, 54.7% of Webster students voted in the 2018 midterm elections.

According to Ryan Drysdale, the associate director of Civic Nation’s ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, however, research has shown that college students still vote at lower rates than the national average.

Drysdale said various factors may contribute to why many students do not vote. Part of the issue, Drysdale said, is a lack of understanding of the political system. Another part of the issue is logistical.

“If you’re a college student, you might move three, four, five, eight, 10 times by the time you finish your academic career at an institution,” Drysdale said. “Depending on the state, you can either re-register online and you have to re-register in person. Do you need to change your driver’s license or your other form of ID?”

McVey added that another potential contributor to the low turnout rates among students is that politicians tend to try and appeal to older, more reliable voters.

“All parties failed to reach out appropriately to voters our age and talk about the issues that affect us,” McVey said.

Because of low overall turnout, Civic Nation began the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge in 2016. It has since partnered with 600 higher education institutions, including Webster University.

“Our program works in two parts: Part of this is support for campuses and structure to learn and do the work,” Drysdale said. “The other part is recognizing the work that they are doing and the results that we see.”

Schools that participate in the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge create action plans to increase voter registration and turnout on college campuses. Sarah Hill is mentioned in Webster’s 2020 Action Plan as part of the WebsterVOTES initiative. She is also a fellow for the Campus Election Engagement Project (CEEP), another organization that encourages voter turnout.

“The purpose is to really just hone in on specific areas of campus that we think that we can improve, in terms of voter engagement and education, and then plan for voter registration and voter outreach activities, as well,” Hill said.

Along with working to encourage voter registration and participation on campus, Hill said her work with CEEP includes international projects. Hill plans to work to increase voting among students who may be studying abroad or have just arrived for their first year.

Webster University won a Platinum Award from ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge in 2018. McVey noted that, overall, Webster has done a good job when it comes to engaging and encouraging students to vote. On top of this, McVey said Webster contributed to putting the Webster Groves campus into one voting precinct compared to four previously.

“That’s something that can help us a lot. Because if we’re going around and talking to people to vote, we can tell them exactly where to go and we don’t have to figure [where they have to go] out,” McVey said.

The presidential primaries will be held on March 10. Students’ last day to register to vote for it was on Feb. 12.

“Primaries are really important because they’re really like the first filter out of who we’re going to be able to vote for in the general election,” McVey said.

McVey added that he believed all elections are important to attend, and that he wished all elections would receive the same voter turnout. Currently, presidential elections tend to have a higher turnout rate than midterms.

Graphic by Cas Waigand.

For people who may have voted during the presidential elections but not the midterms, McVey stressed that midterms are crucial in deciding how the president can govern. Along with this, McVey added other government positions play critical roles in people’s lives.

“Congress and the state legislatures and governors actually play a bigger role in our lives than the president does,” McVey said.

Hill agreed that every level of government, whether it be federal, state or local, have very large impacts on the lives of students. She added almost all legislation passed is going to impact students in one way or another.

“When students are voting, they’re starting a lifelong commitment of being engaged with their community, with the government and other institutions that really impact them on a day-to-day basis,” Hill said. “When college students don’t vote, they don’t get as much of a say in the policies that end up ultimately affecting them.”

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