Student activists find new ways to organize during COVID-19 elections

The student-led New Voters Project is mobilizing young adults in a virtual world

Press Release

For Immediate Release- 

For More Information:
Manny Rin, Student PIRGs New Voters Project Director, 925-234-1457, [email protected]/opentextbookalliance
Ross Sherman, Communications Associate, 207-749-2660, [email protected] 

DENVER This summer, more than 350 Student PIRGs New Voters Project interns will work with college campuses and state election officials across the United States to adopt safe voting policies, register students online, and educate students on how to cast their ballots in the November general election. As a part of Rock the Vote’s Democracy Summer, the New Voters Project will also recruit and train hundreds of fellow students to mobilize thousands of peers to register to vote.

“Voting is the most powerful way we can make our voices heard. The coronavirus pandemic has complicated the process, so we are building large, diverse coalitions on our college campuses to push for safe voting policies,” said Nic Riani, CALPIRG Students, UCLA. “It’s important to spend my summer making sure my school is ready for the election this fall.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped elections, universities and other long-entrenched institutions across our country. With many colleges replacing in-person classes, at least in part, with online learning this fall, the effort to register and turn out new voters is shifting online. Young people, the nation’s largest and most diverse group of potential voters, have the opportunity to decide the upcoming election and many to come. These digital natives are also uniquely set up to use online communication — email, text, social media and more — to encourage their peers. 

A panel of student leaders and elected officials spoke about the importance of voting safely this election during last week’s New Voters Project campaign launch.

“In Michigan, we just passed no-excuse absentee. Now, you have the right to say you want an absentee ballot, no matter what,” said Michigan Assistant Secretary of State Heaster Wheeler. “That’s a game changer. It’s essential we educate and mobilize voters around vote-by-mail.”

Education about these forms of registration and voting will be crucial to turn out young people. A recent poll by Tufts University’s Tisch College Center for Information and Research (CIRCLE) showed that nearly a third of young people (32 percent) said they did not know they could register to vote online in their state. Among those who answered that poll question “yes” or “no,” 25 percent were incorrect. In addition, only 24 percent of young people reported having voted by mail before, which is not unusual. But given the COVID-19-related health risks of voting in person this year, many more people want to — and plan to — vote by mail in 2020. 

So far this summer, more than 650 student leaders in 15 states have been registering, educating and contacting other students about voting in state and local elections. Voting advocates have organized online events with secretaries of state, contacted more than 2,000 peers through phone and text messages, and worked with more than 200 college administrators to ensure that online registration tools, such as StudentVote.org, will help students on their campuses vote this year.  

“Right now, young people are fired up — going to protests and signing petitions. We need to make sure we make our voices heard on Election Day as well,” said Manny Rin, director of Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project. “In an online world, young people are uniquely set up to organize others. It’s time we show the country that America’s largest generation votes!”

When it comes to running an election registration and mobilization effort, young people are at the forefront. Here are some of the top students leading the way:


Caitlin Ukpong, PIRGIM Students, Lansing Community College, Michigan
Email: [email protected]

This summer, Caitlin, along with 40 PIRGIM interns, has been working with the Michigan secretary of state’s office to educate hundreds of students how to safely cast a ballot by mail. This past month, she helped collect  pledges to vote safely from more than 400 students around Michigan. This July, PIRGIM is working with local NAACP chapters to run a series of educational events leading up to the online voter registration deadline on July 21st. 

Reach out to Caitlin for perspective on how students are educating their peers about safe voting practices, including vote by mail.


Hannah Varnell, NCPIRG Students, UNC- Charlotte, North Carolina 
Email: [email protected]

Hannah has helped NCPIRG register hundreds of students in North Carolina by promoting NCStudentVote.org, a one-stop resource for students to register and turn out to vote. The newly established online voter registration in North Carolina will be crucial for young voters to register safely this election season. In July, Hannah will be organizing a radio and podcast outreach event to amplify NCStudentVote.org and other resources to help educate students. 

Reach out to Hannah for perspective on registering students online and using online tools such as StudentVote.org.


Nic Riani, CALPIRG Students, UCLA, CaliforniaEmail: [email protected]

Nic has helped make the UCLA CALPIRG chapter a statewide leader in voter registration and voter turnout. By building a large and diverse coalition of student groups, college athletes, faculty, and administrators at UCLA, the student voter turnout rate more than tripled from 14 percent in the 2014 midterm elections to 45 percent in 2018. This summer, the UCLA chapter is working closely with the California secretary of state’s office to promote the Ballot Bowl, a friendly competition designed to encourage universities and colleges to engage students in the democratic process and register them to vote.

Reach out to Nic for a student perspective on how students are building diverse coalitions on college campuses to help turn out the youth vote.


Follow the Student PIRGs and Democracy Summer online and on social media for upcoming events, trainings, and other campaign actions.

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Follow @StudentPIRGs and #DemocracySummer2020 on twitter for updates

The Student PIRGs voter registration and turnout effort is part of its New Voters Project campaign, one of the largest nonpartisan youth voter mobilization efforts in the country. 

The Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project has run peer-to-peer student voter mobilization drives to turn out the youth vote on college campuses for more than 30 years. Its philosophy is that the full participation of young people in the political process is essential to a truly representative, vibrant democracy. The New Voters Project does not endorse, either explicitly or implicitly, a political candidate or political party for elected office.