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Where you read it first | Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Goodman Foundation ambassadors, Tufts Votes look to boost on-campus voter registration

Tufts Votes member Marisa Fried registers students at the civic engagement fair on Sept 23, 2014.

According to the Tisch College's Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), U.S. youth voters -- those in the 18-29 age range -- are consistently less likely to vote in elections than older constituents, especially in midterm elections. 64.8 percent of Americans over 25 cast their votes in the 2012 elections, compared with 41.2 percent of 18-24-year-olds. Only 21.5 percent of youth voted in the 2014 midterms, and their votes comprised just 13 percent of the total counted.

Alan Solomont, the dean of the Tisch College, pointed out that youth voting numbers are not only low, but on the decline.

"On the one hand I think your generation is, if I may put it this way, ... very eager to engage in community service, to volunteer; applications to AmeriCorps and Teach For America are through the roof," he said. "But the numbers of young people and college students generally participating in democratic activities in politics, really, is now… declining. So people who are eligible to vote in the age group 18-29 [make up] the largest voting bloc in our country today, but they’re not voting in numbers."

Solomont stressed the importance of ensuring that younger Americans are properly represented.

"It’s important that the voices of young voters be heard," he said. "I think that people of that age group are as impacted by public policy as anyone, from policies regarding incarcerations and military service to student loans, and unless the voices of young voters are heard, the policies are not going to serve their interests."

Today, college students represent the majority of the 18-29 group. CIRCLE estimates that 66 percent of young Americans that voted in 2012 had some college experience. For the Andrew Goodman foundation and their “Vote Everywhere Student Ambassadors,” who promote voter registration and education on U.S. college campuses, engaging the college vote is a vital aspect of boosting youth voter participation.

Sophomores Ben Kaplan and Dana Kaufman are two of Tufts' Vote Everywhere Ambassadors, whom are being hosted by the Tisch College.

"It’s a national initiative that’s being piloted at around 30 campuses now to try different strategies -- we’re given a great deal of freedom -- but basically to try different strategies to register voters," Kaplan said.

Tufts' ambassadors worked with a nonpartisan group called Tufts Votes to help coordinate a get-out-the-vote campaign last fall that involved registering students to vote and driving them to the polls on election night, among other initiatives. Ahead of the 2016 presidential election, Tufts' ambassadors -- Kaplan and Kaufman, along with sophomore Olivia Carle and first-years Marisa Fried and Jamie Neikrie -- have put together a new plan for engaging Tufts voters.

"The mission of our plan is to educate and engage Tufts students in the electoral process," he said. "We want institutionalized, easy voter registration for Tufts students on all three campuses, voter education and engagement programs ... our ultimate goal is to see 65 percent of students vote."

One of the initiatives by which the ambassadors hope to activate votes is the integration of voter registration for Tufts students into the class signup process on SIS.

"If this plan being proposed by ourselves and the Tisch College is fully implemented, particularly the online voter registration signups, Tufts will become one of the first universities, if not the first university in the nation, to provide fully integrated online voter registration to all students," Kaplan said. "That’s very exciting, and this system … will become a model for the nation, for national student voter registration and engagement."

Kaufman hopes that the integration of registration into class signups will simplify the process.

"Voter registration should be a simple thing, but it somehow is overcomplicated, so I guess we’re just trying to simplify that process for students," she said. "Some students didn’t even register when they were 18 in their home state, and so this is kind of a first for them, registering and then voting."

Kaplan said that he hopes easier access to registration will encourage more students to vote.

"We’re really trying to do a basic thing for a number of different reasons," he said. "Voter registration and voting for students is difficult, and we’re trying to make it easier so more students can vote and more students can be engaged in the electoral process."

The ambassadors' other major objectives are to address the numerous obstacles to registration that students face. A major aspect of this involves simplifying an overly complicated on-campus voting address system. Currently, registering students must list the school’s address along with one of many false addresses -- corresponding to each dormitory -- from a confounding list. A Latin Way resident, for example, must list “44 Latin Way,” instead of the correct “40 Lower Campus Road.”

The ambassadors also plan to provide "National Issues Forums" and create issue briefs to help educate voters while continuing t0 expand the get-out-the-vote programs run by Tufts Votes every election season.

"We’re really trying to reach more people, I guess, on an individual basis," Kaufman said. "We’re really hoping to get more people from both [Tufts Democrats and Tufts Republicans] to come together, especially for the 2016 election."

"As well as organizations that are unaffiliated with either party," Kaplan continued. "The hope for 2016 ... is to really build off the incredible work that was done this past fall, just kind of keep expanding these efforts."

According to Kaufman and Kaplan, the ambassadors' plan recently earned the support of Dean Solomont.

"We’re really hoping to work with Tisch College to get this rolling, [to] start having meetings next fall, and hoping to get it implemented by fall of 2016 before that election," Kaufman said.

Kaplan said that a few steps remain before voter registration on SIS -- the plan's most important feature -- can be fully implemented.

"We’ll need the sign-off of, most likely, the dean of student services, perhaps even the office of the president," he said. "What we’re talking about here is making voter registration easier; there is no one that doesn’t want to get behind that. The biggest hurdle is just the tech side, making sure that the voter registration system ... is fully integrated into class signups."

Solomont said that he hopes to support the ambassadors' efforts however possible.

"I’m going to do everything I can to be supportive of the effort,” he said. "This is just a real priority for the college, ... just to be as supportive as we can. It’s going to be run by these students, which is terrific, but they’ll have all of our support."

Solomont emphasized that voter engagement is a multifaceted problem for which there is no single catch-all solution.

"I think the thing that we know about voting is that there’s not one single magic bullet. … One has to look at policies, one has to look at how to motivate, one has to look at what kind of outreach works, what kind of contact with campaigns works," he said.

He particularly hopes, however, that registration is implemented on SIS.

"That one does seem to make a lot of sense to me," he said. "I mean, in the same way that I think, someday -- I hope -- that young people can register to vote, generally, on their mobile devices."

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