A new non-partisan initiative focused on increasing voter participation on campus has connected eager students with absentee ballots and registered many others in preparation for their first visit to the polls this November.
The Colgate Vote Project was born as a collaboration between faculty, staff, and students to increase the number of students voting, either in person or by absentee ballot.
Associate Professor of History Heather Roller said she learned in the spring that student voting numbers for the 2014 midterms were low and that 2016 voting participation data showed that campus turnout on election day was also slightly behind the national average.
“I thought, we can do better than this, especially with how many students I have in my classes who are engaged with politics,” Roller said.
In response, Roller teamed up with Associate Professor of Sociology Alicia Simmons and Professor of Political Science Tim Byrnes to seek four interns who could assist with a summer project of studying how best to create a supportive voting culture on campus. That work — by Ellie Schonberg ’21, Sarah Shahidi ’21, Benjamin Geisler ’18, and Jack Wallan ’19 — resulted in the student-led Colgate Vote Project.
In addition, about 40 faculty and staff worked to help provide feedback and support for the interns as they worked through summer.
Schonberg said the interns created marketing materials, a CVP logo, and a new webpage that would give students access to a single form, via vote.org, for registering to vote or to apply for an absentee ballot. They also looked at what other universities have done to get out the vote.
“It was important for us to have one standard procedure to facilitate voting, not to offer 50 different ways to do it by each state,” Schonberg said. “Also, I don’t care how what party you are registering for or who you are voting for. Everyone has a right to their own opinion.”
After the formal internships, Schonberg and Shahidi kept the project rolling throughout the fall semester, eventually growing the CVP to 200 student members and earning permanent club status with the Max A. Shacknai Center for Outreach, Volunteerism, and Education (COVE).
Schonberg and Shahidi say their group has registered about 61 new voters and helped 74 others receive absentee ballots in time for the November 6 elections.
Beyond this midterm, Shahidi said the group is focused on creating a voting culture that will persist on campus, “We want to instill the good habit of voting. We want students to feel like this is something that they have to do, because they should.”
CVP is partnering with the Office of the Dean of the College to offer free van transportation, with snacks, to the local polls at the Hamilton Public Library. Those vans will leave every hour, on the hour, from Noon to 8 p.m., from in front of the Curtis and Drake clock. Also, a special CVP election night viewing party for students, faculty, and staff is slated to be held in the Robert H.N. Ho Science Center, room 101, from 6:30 p.m. to midnight as the results are tallied.