Today, the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge announced the names of 82
college students who were selected for the Student Voting Honor Roll. This award recognizes students at participating campuses who are advancing nonpartisan student voter registration, education, and turnout efforts as well as ensuring equitable access to the polls.
Representing Washington University in St. Louis, Bob & Gerry Virgil Civic Scholar and WashU Votes co-chair Otto Brown was selected as the 2022 honoree. The Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement is proud to recognize Brown for all his efforts engaging young voters on campus and across the community.
Lily Gordon sat down with Brown to learn more about his involvement, and the motivations behind his work in voter engagement at WashU.
How did you get involved with WashU Votes here at Washu?
It started my freshman year. I came for the Democratic debate watch parties that they were holding at Stix House. At the time, WashU Votes was led by graduate students, the Engage Democracy Fellows, Rachel and David. They were looking for more students to get involved. I started there and we transitioned to an undergraduate led organization in January of 2020. So, I was one of the first undergraduate leaders of WashU Votes.
Why do you feel passionate about voter engagement?
Voter engagement is one of those ways that people can get involved. It’s one tool in the toolbox of civic engagement. I think it’s a really meaningful way for people to get involved at a local level. We just had local elections earlier this month on April 5, and people voted on local taxes, propositions for the county, and local elected officials. All really interesting things that impact our daily lives. Even at the statewide and national level, it’s a way for people to get involved in issues that are being talked about and to make their voice heard. Again, it’s one tool in the toolbox. There are lots of other ways that people can get involved. But this is a low-cost, high impact way to get involved.
What was your favorite part of working with WashU Votes and the Gephardt Institute?
I would have to say doing Party at the Polls in November of 2020. We hosted a polling place on campus in the Athletic Complex. After people voted, we had snacks and a photo booth. It was a great time to see everyone together, taking part in civic engagement. And having that WashU Votes and Gephardt presence there was awesome because it demonstrated the culmination of all the work we had done. It was great to see all the people who turned out to vote. To see people voting for the first time. To see people voting for the first time in Missouri or without their parents. Just to see the smiles on people’s faces coming out of the voting booth excited to exercise their civic responsibilities.
What are the most challenging parts of increasing voter engagement on campus?
In the virtual times, when people weren’t together on campus, it was really hard to get the message across and convey information effectively. Especially encouraging people to think about civic engagement when it’s not a presidential election year or a mid-term. Demonstrating to people that civic engagement and voting in particular is really a year-round activity.
How did you feel when you heard about the ALL IN award?
I was surprised. I didn’t know that it was something that was out there. I’m really grateful to the folks here for nominating me for it and, of course, to the ALL IN Challenge giving me the award. I think it’s really neat to be recognized in a group with other leaders from universities across the country for doing this kind of work. I mean, this is something I’m really passionate about. So, I was just really excited and honored to be receiving it.
What are your plans for the future?
So, this is my last term on the WashU Votes leadership team. I am really hoping to get the initiatives we are working on now launched and to have a big turnout for the midterms. Really working with those first-year students and to integrate voter registration into Bear Beginnings. Working with the university to institutionalize voter registration into the new course management software. And really looking to make sure that WashU Votes, as a student organization, has the scaffolding and the structure to continue being really effective in perpetuity here. I’m really excited about the work that we’re doing, the stuff that Gephardt is setting up, and the stuff that our chairs have planned. They’ve got great ideas and lots of energy. It’s really nice to be part of a team that’s focused on these issues and really passionate about making a difference on campus.
Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?
The primary is Aug. 2. You can start requesting your absentee ballots in late June. Be sure that you are an informed voter and do your research before you go and vote. And just keep exercising your civic responsibilities and stay engaged!