The WashU Votes logo has become a familiar symbol on campus, proudly displayed on laptop stickers, t-shirts, buttons, and signs. This simple phrase has come to represent a key component of the Gephardt Institute’s work and Washington University’s commitment to civic engagement.
WashU Votes is a student-driven voter engagement effort. It includes professional and student staff on the Gephardt Institute’s Engage Democracy team along with a mix of WashU undergraduate and graduate student volunteers. The team facilitates the voting process by actively encouraging voter registration and participation in local, state, and national elections. Whether informing students about election dates and ballot issues or educating them about the absentee voter process, WashU Votes is committed to supporting voter engagement and advancing a culture of lifelong civic engagement.
In January, the WashU Votes team gathered for a retreat and visioning session. The session allowed for small group discussion and the development of goals and action items for the spring semester. Lindsay Gassman, Class of 2020 and Voter Engagement Fellow at the Gephardt Institute, shared, “The visioning session was a great way to kick off the semester and the 2020 election season overall. Given the important presidential primary and municipal elections this semester and the presidential election later this year, WashU Votes will have many opportunities to spread the message of the importance of voting and civic engagement to the campus. It was inspiring seeing all the ideas of how to engage students throughout the year present right off the bat at the session.”
This spring, WashU Votes will focus on increasing awareness about WashU Votes and opportunities for student involvement, and on reaching the broader WashU community through events and outreach. Volunteers have formed three committees to align with these focus areas and update one another at bi-monthly meetings. Audrey Santora, Class of 2020 and Engage Democracy Coordinator, said, “I feel that WashU Votes has a more solid structure, with our new committees to focus on individual aspects as well as a timeline of our plan for this semester. This structure will be crucial to our success.”
In recent weeks, the team has collaborated with Gephardt Institute staff to promote voter registration events through a variety of print and digital channels. Volunteers have tabled at regular events across Residential Colleges and are hosting Voter Absentee Parties in each academic division leading up to the presidential primary election. They have also formed new partnerships with student groups and departments to reach a broader spectrum of graduate students at the Brown School, School of Law, and School of Medicine.
In addition to supporting efforts across campus, WashU Votes volunteers have taken steps to learn more about the process of democracy at the national level. On February 3, a group of first-year students – Ethan Liss-Roy, Natalie Hall, Otto Brown, and Sophie Conroy – attended the democratic caucus at Hillside Elementary School in Wes Des Moines, Iowa. Their trip required over five hours of travel each way, but all agreed that it made a significant impact. Otto Brown reflected that, “While caucusing is unorthodox at best, I left feeling inspired and energized for the 2020 election.” The caucus set up was integral to the students’ experience. The Hillside location served three precincts, separated into three different rooms in the school. The students saw a diverse mix of attendees and volunteers, many of them with signs and buttons showing their support for various candidates. Their experience is one of many examples of WashU Votes volunteers coming together to learn and actively engage in the process of democracy.
For more about WashU Votes and ways to get involved, click here.