Empowering Students to Vote

Cassie Klosterman served as the Gephardt Institute’s first Voter Engagement Fellow. Beginning her role in her final semester at WashU, Cassie led campus voter registration efforts through the November election. Cassie mobilized a team of students to register over 3,600 new voters on campus. Here she reflects on her experiences before embarking on a new journey with Atlantic Media in Washington, D.C.

cassie-celebration

Cassie on the eve of the 2016 Presidential Debate posing with one of the many public displays of art featured that week.

In 2012 I sat in the Danforth University Center with hundreds of other WashU students watching the election results come in. Cheers filled Tisch Commons as each state was called. The room hummed with excitement and hope. I remember thinking how lucky I was not only to live in a country where I could engage in this democratic process, but also to be a part of a university community filled with so much passion.

Four years later, when I learned of the Gephardt Institute’s Voter Engagement Fellow position, I eagerly applied for the chance to empower students and be a part of this historic election cycle. Moreover, I saw a chance to help dispel the notion millennials are uninterested in politics or do not participate due to apathy.

Through my conversations with peers, over and over again, I heard about their deep concern about the issues and a desire to learn more. There was no lack of conviction or caring. Rather there were hurdles of time and lack of basic information.

In our voter engagement efforts this election, we focused on reducing the practical barriers to voting. This meant ensuring that students understood the basics of voting such as where they are eligible to register, what ID they need to bring to the polls, or how to request an absentee ballot. We emphasized the identity of being a voter rather than voting in a single election.

Additionally, we met students where they were in our voter registration efforts. We infused modern day technology into the

registration process by using TurboVote, an online tool made by the non-partisan nonprofit Democracy Works, as our registration platform. Instead of hosting traditional voter registration drives where students have to come to us, we utilized tablets to make registration available to students after campus events, on their way to class, and during orientation.

The results of our program were overwhelmingly positive. Washington University ranked third in the nation for the largest number of registered voters among the nearly 200 universities using TurboVote. Additionally, we started a civic dialogue program and advised student groups on how to incorporate voter engagement into their programming. On Election Day our focus was helping students have a positive voting experience by making campus feel celebratory and advising them of their rights.

Though the election results were surprising and were difficult to process for many of our students, I have been left with the conviction that now is the time to get to work. During my time working with the Gephardt Institute, I have seen the difference a determined compassionate group of individuals can make. I have seen that WashU students are deeply invested in the future of this country regardless of their political beliefs.

Undergraduate and graduate students from Washington University in St. Louis gathered Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016 for the kickoff event for WashU Votes, an effort to encourage student involvement in the 2016 election and the 2016 Presidential Debate being hosted on the WU Campus Oct. 9, 2016. The WashU Votes program is part of the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement. Cassandra Klosterman, Voter Engagement Fellow at the Gephardt Institute, delivers remarks during the event. Photo by Sid Hastings / WUSTL Photos

Cassie delivers remarks to undergraduate and graduate students at the for the kickoff event for WashU Votes, an effort to encourage student involvement in the 2016 election and the 2016 Presidential Debate. Photo by Sid Hastings / WUSTL Photos

I think one of things that make the Gephardt Institute so extraordinary is their commitment to long term vision. Our efforts this election cycle were never simply about getting people out to vote on November 8, though that is an extremely worthy goal in itself. Rather, our broader vision was and remains to increase political engagement 365 days a year and help develop active, informed citizens.

The Gephardt Institute’s vision of WashU students as future leaders and change makers in their communities has inspired me in many ways. My experiences with the Gephardt Institute have given me the fortitude to move to Washington, D.C., in order to pursue work about which I am passionate, and I believe can have an impact on our communities.


Read more about Cassie and the institute’s voter engagement efforts:

From WashU’s Source:
Sept. 19: College students want a voice in the debate
Sept. 26: Registered and ready — Washington University students are engaged voters
Nov. 4: Students Ready to Vote

Local media:
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Debate countdown: all eyes on Washington University
KMOV: Washington U. ranked #3 for highest registered students voters