Manny Rin is the National Director of the Student PIRGs New Voters Project, working with students on over 100 campuses in 17 states.
Samantha Perlman is the Civic Engagement Manager at Scholars Strategy Network and a City Councilor in Marlborough, Massachusetts.
At the forefront
It’s no secret that students have been at the forefront of social change throughout history, from organizing during the civil and voting rights movements to protecting the environment and much more. Deliberate and effective organizing on college campuses has been pivotal to the success of these movements.
However, due to COVID-19, campus organizing has looked very different this year. Many institutions have opted into partial, if not full, remote learning environments, forcing on-the-ground groups to shift strategies. We have traded in our clipboards for Google Docs. We are now delivering class announcements through our laptop cameras while seated at our kitchen tables.
To maintain engagement between students and faculty in these difficult times, the Student PIRGs New Voters Project, one of the country’s oldest and largest youth-led voter mobilization efforts, and the Scholars Strategy Network (SSN), a network of more than 1,500 university researchers, have brought together thousands of students and faculty to ensure that as many student body members as possible register as voters, make plans to vote, and, ultimately, cast their ballots.
To meet that goal, SSN launched a new initiative this past summer. Open to all faculty, the Faculty Network for Student Voting Rights aims to connect, equip and mobilize faculty across disciplines, campuses and states. From adding deadline reminders to online course platforms like Moodle and Canvas to facilitating peer-to-peer voter outreach, the New Voter Project and SSN worked to train faculty around the country on best practices for reaching their students.
Implementing these practices, PIRG students have worked with faculty across the country to reach more than 600,000 students in the classroom, over the phone, and through class listservs in the days leading up to local voter registration deadlines.
“By working with our professors, we did dozens of class announcements that helped us educate hundreds of students about the importance of voting before the registration deadline,” said Milu Parrilla, a freshman at Georgia State University. “Teaming up with our faculty will be crucial to help make sure students are vote ready for the election.”
Earlier this month, Clemson University professor Bridget Trogden, a Steering Committee member with the Faculty Network, reflected on just how important the get-out-the-vote effort is to our democracy. While she noted that some faculty are initially hesitant to engage in this vital issue, she called on faculty nationwide to deeply engage students in the election by connecting non-partisan voter engagement directly to academia.
Dr. Trogden explained that student civic engagement dialogue belongs in the classroom because voting is an academic issue that bridges critical thinking and informational literacy to civic action. Importantly, the outcomes of the election will inform policy in many areas related to coursework.
Getting out the Vote in a Pandemic
Youth voter turnout is increasing, most recently with 40.3% of students turning out to vote in the 2018 midterms, up from 19.3% in 2014. In 2016, 48.3% of students turned out, and we are determined to raise that number in 2020. But how can we get out the vote after such a dramatic reshaping of the democratic landscape by the COVID-19 pandemic?
First-time voters, especially, may have pressing questions, including: Do I vote in person or by mail? Where is my nearest polling location? What is the deadline to mail in my ballot? With Nov. 3 less than two weeks away, faculty and student organizing can play a big role in walking first-time voters through this process.
Here are two ways to help make sure students are vote ready on your campus:
First, reach students in the classroom. In a partnership with the Andrew Goodman Foundation, we are asking faculty to take three simple actions:
- Post key election dates and information on their class syllabus and websites.
- Invite a student to make a non-partisan class announcement.
- Connect course material to the election using resources such as those found on the Faculty Network for Student Voting Rights website.
Second, participate in organizing actions. Vote Early Day (Oct. 24) marks the 10-day countdown until Election Day. To kick off our massive get-out-the-vote effort, hundreds of students will participate in a national phone-a-thon to call and text thousands of their peers across the country to ensure they make a plan to cast their ballot. Direct voter to voter contact is one of the best ways to bring voters to the ballot box.
Voting is the basic act that makes democracy possible. Nationwide, students and faculty are working together to make sure that our country’s newest cohort of voters embrace this responsibility and cast their ballots in 2020. Make sure that you have a plan to vote, and let’s make this year the one with the highest student voter turnout yet.