For universities searching for ways to both grow students' engagement on campus and develop their education and participation as active citizens, voter registration programs have become an increasingly popular activity. Today’s college students show skyrocketing levels of political interest and activity, giving Student Activities departments a clear opportunity to provide access to information and resources on campus.
While they have received increasing attention in the recent years, on-campus voter registration programs aren’t a new phenomenon. In fact, the federal Higher Education Amendments of 1998 require colleges to make a “good faith effort” to distribute voter registration materials to transient students, who have the option voting in their home district or establishing residency where they go to school.
If your Student Affairs department is interested in starting a voter registration program, here are 5 steps that you can take to start building political participation on your campus.
1. Do your researchEvery state has different laws when it comes to elections and voter registration, so research carefully to make sure that you are giving students accurate and up-to-date information. For the most accurate information, visit your secretary of state’s or board of elections’ websites. Several non-partisan organizations devoted to increasing students’ political involvement have also created online tools for easily finding state-specific voting information, including Campus Vote Project, Rock the Vote, and TurboVote. And don't stop after you've compiled the information, make sure to make a plan for regular updates to your resources to capture any changes in requirements or deadlines.
2. Make the information easy to find
Creating a voting resource page on your website makes it easy for students to access reliable voting information whenever they need it, and gives staff and student volunteers a central place to direct students with questions. Campus voting resource web pages should provide several key pieces of information, including:
- Your state’s voting eligibility requirements
- Your state’s voter registration deadlines
- Instructions for where to find voter registration material on campus
- Instructions for how to register using a campus address
- Information on where to find absentee ballot information for their home state
- Information on where and when to vote on Election Day
- Your state’s voter ID requirements
3. Don’t make students come to youSet up a voter registration table at campus events that will naturally attract students, and don’t just limit it to social or “fun” activities. For instance, universities such as Northwestern and Stanford have seen great success registering students as part of freshman orientation. Providing the opportunity to register to vote when students are picking up their student IDs, registering bicycles, or doing other campus paperwork is a convenient and effective way to keep your campus community engaged in the electoral process. Using mobile technology to input and track data on the students who register to vote allows your office to accurately report your impact, while also having the freedom and mobility to meet students wherever they are. Don't forget - wherever you are, bring the supplies that students will need, such as stamps and envelopes for mailing paper forms to ensure that the process is completed.
4. Advertise with texting and social mediaToday’s generation of students relies heavily on their mobile phones for communication, and any campaign to engage them must use digital tools effectively. With texting tools that allow staff to have personalized conversations with students on a mass level and save relevant data to a student's database record for access and querying later, it's easier than ever to start conversations and answer students' questions about voter registration in the ways that they most frequently communicate. EveryAction's advanced social network integration features match students' email addresses to nearly 100 different social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Tumblr, allowing you to analyze the best digital platforms for engaging the student body. Using other database tools such as social share tracking and integration with Facebook's Ads Manager enables communicate on the platforms most-used by your students.
5. Use voter data to target students and track your impact
Using a student database that is built for tracking voting status and information in addition to other factors makes campus voter registration a simple task. EveryAction contains the best voting age population file, which enables administrators to gauge student voter participation and track the impacts of the voter registration program over time. Particularly for ongoing programs that span multiple years and election cycles, it is important to track the students who have registered previously in order to effectively reach out to those who have not. Pulling lists of students based on their voter registration status for email or text message outreach is useful for contacting students who have not yet registered to promote opportunities, following up with students who need to complete registration processes, and sending election-related information to registered students.
Growing campus engagement often goes hand-in-hand with other university objectives, such as civic education and encouraging students to become active and informed participants in their community. Voter registration may seem like a large undertaking, but with the right tools, it provides an avenue to achieve multiple goals while providing a necessary service to the student body.