Colleges Are Encouraging Students To Register To Vote In The Midterm Elections & It Really F-cking Matters.

The highly-anticipated, 2018 midterm elections are just around the corner, and so many college students are eligible to vote this year. There is just a slight problem. We don’t exactly, as a demo, have the best record for showing up for the midterms. 

According to an analysis done by Tufts University, only 18 percent of college students voted in the 2014 midterm elections. Since the last midterm elections, almost 15 million millennials between the ages of 18 and 21 have become eligible to vote, the New York Times reports. Meaning more people have the chance for their voices to be heard, and possibly to change our political landscape. But even though young, college students make up the majority of voting-eligible adults, we aren’t expected to cast many votes in November. 

It’s a high-stakes midterm election in 2018 (as Trump wasn’t in office four years ago). His controversial-administration has increased students desire to vote and vote on a number of policies that affect there day-to-day lives. 

"We have seen a lot of tight races decided by a small difference of votes. This 2018 midterm election is especially important because the youth mobilization is motivated to impact politics now more than ever due to the current political climate. They want to elect the change they want and to bring in elected officials who truly support their concerns.” 

“College students are large in numbers and have the capacity to change the political landscape toward an orientation of needs they care about and are affected by,” said Lynette Quintero, board chair of the Student Advisory Board of the Campus Vote Project, which is part of the Fair Elections Center. “We have seen a lot of tight races decided by a small difference of votes. This 2018 midterm election is especially important because the youth mobilization is motivated to impact politics now more than ever due to the current political climate. They want to elect the change they want and to bring in elected officials who truly support their concerns.” 

It’s this desire for change that many colleges and universities are targeting and trying to encourage college students to vote this semester. And many are getting creative and using their institutional power to make voting much more accessible for college students. 

“When I first started doing this work, a lot of campuses were hesitant to do things around elections because they thought that was inherently partisan. But we think and do a lot of work with campuses that do a great job in helping prepare their students to get registered, understand what’s on the ballot, and how to actually access it in a nonpartisan way,” said Mike Burns, national director for Campus Vote Project. The CVP works with many colleges and universities in reducing the barriers that stop many students from voting. College students face a number of hurdles when attempting to register and vote. A lot of the times students lack information about voter registration rules and deadlines, are confused about where to vote, don’t have transportation to the polls, and new laws limit their access to the polls. 

“A huge part of this is that they think there are more barriers to voting. They are registering and voting for the first time, which means that they are new to the process,” said national program director for the Campus Vote Project, Debi Lombardi.

It’s understandable as to why students may be confused by the process. For many, it’s their first time, often outside of their home state, and or without much guidance. They don’t sometimes have the information they need to feel confident in their vote. 

Most likely the biggest barrier for college student though is how every state has their own deadlines, rules and regulations for registering, identification and voting. Difference in laws can really impact student voter turnout, according to Mike Burns.

"A huge part of this is that they think there are more barriers to voting. They are registering and voting for the first time, which means that they are new to the process."

According to Michigan state coordinator for CVP Rihan Issa, Michigan state voting laws is a prime example for inconvenient regulations for students. The state does not have online registration, which is often the easiest way for college students to vote. Students are, instead, required to fill out a form and send it to their county clerk. 

“It’s just there are so many extra steps that as a student, when your eighteen and you’re still fresh in college. You are still trying to get used to your new place, new ropes, and even just one thing that adds a barrier you’re like ‘ oh I’ll think about it later’ or ‘I’ll worry about it later.’ I think it adds an extra step that they don’t feel like is necessary,” Issa said. 

There are voter verification laws in Michigan so that if you are voting for the first time in the state you have to vote in person the first day. This is especially hard for students who decide to register and vote in their hometown as they are less likely to go and vote than they are in the town of their college. Elections also happen on a Tuesday, so not a lot off students are able to access transportation to get home and vote. 

Michigan, similar to states like Wisconsin, Texas and Tennessee, also have strict voter identification requirements. If you change your address, you have to make your Michigan license and voter registration address the same. According to Issa, some students are hesitant to change their address for fear of messing with their loans or taxes. 

Despite these barriers, it is important that students understand the tremendous impact their state and local offices have on their day-to-day lives. College students tend to favor Democrats. According to a Pew Research Center poll, 58 percent of students between the age of 18 to 25 identify as Democrats

“There are more offices on the ballot usually in the midterm years than their are in presidential years and that has a great impact  on folks across a range of issues. So if there is something folks are passionate about, there’s probably something on the ballot this year that has direct impact on that [individual],” said Burns. “It’s just helping them understand both the process for being able to get registered to vote and also helping them draw connections and understand the impact these different offices have on those issues that they’re passionate about.” 

Simply put it’s your chance to be heard and have power in politics on a number of issues you care about. Let's say you are a pre-med major: You might connect with the need for better access to health care, of if you are an environmental science major, you might connect with climate change issues. There are so many issues at stake such as gun reform, health care, student loan policy, criminal justice reform, immigration, women and reproductive rights. Pretty much anything you can think of is on the ballot this midterm election. Your vote has the opportunity to decide the direction our country is going in on these important issues. But it is just one part of a larger solution. 

Northwestern University’s Center for Civic engagement launched the initiative NU Votes in 2011, which aimed to increase voter registration and participation. According to Tuft University’s National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE), it is one of the most successful institutions in the country at upping voter registration. A first of its kind, the data from the study can be used by administrators to breakdown the number of students who register and actually vote. Colleges like Northwestern can use this information to see how best to engage students in the process of voting. The school has registered more than 90 percent of its student body to vote. According to Northwestern Now, NU Votes incorporates voter registration into the process of move-in day. Students are able to stop at one of five booths that are across campus to talk with the programs representatives about signing up. 

Mike Burns of CVP said that college administrators need to figure out what is the best possible way to register students to vote, whether that be setting up tables or incorporating registration into student activities like orientation events. It’s about taking the existing systems within the school that have the opportunity to insert voter registration, and making it work. 

West Michigan University actually goes into where students are at most for registration—in the classroom.  UCLA consolidated polling to one, centralized on-campus location instead of five, so that it is easier for students to know where to vote. 

“We know that many students will be able to vote for the first time when they arrive at UCLA, and we want to inspire a lifelong commitment to voting and civic engagement,” said Chancellor Gene Block in the press release. “College is a time and place where many young people first get involved in causes that matter to them, and it is our responsibility to facilitate engagement with those causes and the electoral process in particular.”

UCLA will also be introducing a new feature that will make it easier for students to register to vote. The MyUCLA student portal will autofill a California voter registration with student’s name and information that will then be sent to the California secretary of state’s office. It’s the first campus in the nation to provide an accessible option for students, according to the press release.

It’s not just college administrators who are taking the lead in changing voter registration. Student government on campus leads a large part of the initiative to motivate students to register to vote. Clubs, sports teams and Greek life add another level of voter encouragement. According to Rihan Issa, Michigan State University teamed up with athletes to make “What’s Your Game Plan?” videos to help students think about what they are going to do on voting day, and help them see what the process looks like. 

“We strongly believe it’s not an end all solution,” said Rihan Issa. We strongly believe its not just one group who does it all. We don’t believe you have one person who does it all, and they try to convince everyone. It really is as collaborative as possible.” 

Whether or not you follow politics, it affects you. Whether or not you vote in the midterms, it still affects you. Even though we aren’t voting for a president this time around, your vote in November is still important. Because in a lot of ways, your vote counts more. Your vote impacts more. 

You can learn more about voter registration deadlines, where to register, ID requirements, and more at campusvoteproject.org