Washington University in St. Louis has been nationally recognized as a Voter Friendly Campus. Following a competitive application process, 83 universities received the designation, which recognizes campuses doing excellent work to empower their students to participate in the democratic process.
The Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement is responsible for overseeing the voter registration, compliance, and engagement processes for students on campus. Beginning in spring 2016 through November’s Election Day, the institute focused on increasing voter turnout by registering WashU students and educating them on ballot issues and voting logistics. WashU contracted with TurboVote to complete voter registration through a nonpartisan, web-based platform. This platform enables the Gephardt Institute to support students as they register as voters in all 50 states, navigate the absentee voting process in their home states, and comply with their state’s registration deadlines and processes.
The Gephardt Institute approached voter engagement as a collaborative process that engaged the full campus community. The institute coordinated a Voter Engagement Team of over 80 faculty, staff, undergraduates, and graduate students to keep the campus informed of voter engagement efforts and to build a supportive base of involved constituents. The Voter Engagement Team had a sub-committee of 25 passionate students and staff interested in voter registration. This Voter Registration Squad met regularly with Gephardt Institute staff from the institute to review plans and brainstorm strategies. Squad members led voter registration at over 25 events on campus and volunteered to staff the on-campus polling place for Election Day to further engage voters and celebrate their participation.
In conjunction with the Presidential Debate hosted on campus, the Gephardt Institute offered an Election Year Programming Fund that supported faculty across schools and departments to implement activities, events, or projects related to the election and debate. Funded projects included a “Vote Dammit” campaign developed by a Communications Design class at the Sam Fox School; a polling place simulation for international students interested in learning more about ballot issues and the democratic process; and a post-election inter-disciplinary symposium on American Democracy and the Rise of Donald Trump.
The WashU Votes Programming and Funding Committees, led collaboratively by Student Union and Graduate Professional Council, provided additional structure and resources to engage students in events leading up to the election, including on-campus debate watch parties and a Debate Fair.
In total, through coordinated efforts across the Gephardt Institute, WashU Votes, and the Voter Registration Squad, WashU registered 3,608 students on TurboVote over a three-month period leading up to the Missouri registration deadline — tripling the number of students registered through the Gephardt Institute during the 2012 election. Although WashU’s voter engagement, registration, and education strategy was concentrated between August and Election Day, the Gephardt Institute has continued to engage students in the political process through programming such as the “What’s at Stake in the St. Louis City Election” panel and the upcoming Skills for Democracy event on Tools for Political Mobilization.
The Voter Friendly Campus initiative is led by Campus Vote Project (CVP) and NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. Learn more about the designation here.