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Things You Can Do to Engage Students in the Election

Page history last edited by Ariane Hoy 11 years, 11 months ago

Here’s a quick list of things schools can still do to get students engaged in the election, pulled together from all the good ideas that different campuses have come up with. We’ve broken them down by category, though some overlap.  We hope these ideas will help you think of last minute ways to engage students in voter education, voter protection, actually getting out the vote and finding ways to stay involved the election.


The key in these final weeks is to follow through on good ideas already begun and pick new ideas that will complement other activities Most new ideas will need to be low-cost, simple and creative to pull off in this short time frame, but any of these could still make a significant difference. 


We hope you’ll scan these ideas and pick some things to do that you aren’t already doing.  See too the ideas listed that we got from you.





1.     Guerrilla theater. Univ of Colorado Denver ordered Obama/McCain masks and gigantic boxing gloves and used them to hold mock fights and breakdancing contests all over campus. If you want to order the masks they're $19.95 each and are orderable here.  And this is where you get the two pairs of $9.99 gigantic blow up boxing gloves. You can order either with two-day or next-day shipping. 
The possibilities with such approaches are limited only by your imagination: Hold amusing or serious skits about voting, publicizing issues debates, and gather crowds in visible places to interest students who might ignore tables or signs.  Use these events to hand out voter pledges and voting information.  Be creative and try to entertain as you engage and educate.


2.     Halloween activities: Trick or Vote canvassing on or around Halloween.  Materials available online so you don’t need to start from scratch.  Take advantage of parties happening on that day to spread your voter protection, voter education and get out the vote messages.
Hand out candy messages:  Get some bags of candy and stick or tie small message to them (“vote on nov 4”, “bring ID to the polls”, “what time are you voting?”, “how are you getting to the polls?”, “what kind of id to I need? www.866ourvote.org,” “election party, xxx dorm,” etc.)  Then put on a costume (or not) and hand them out on campus (having more information available can be helpful but people are much more likely to take a piece of candy than a flyer)


3.     Parades to early voting sites or polling places. University of Colorado Denver is also doing a parade of student voters to the nearby early voting site. Schools where sites are too far to walk can do this with carpools or school-sponsored shuttles. Early voting is key, because it avoids the problems of jammed student schedules or long polling place lines, plus gives students a chance to correct any registration problems.  Then on November 4th, you can repeat these efforts to make voting a community activity and celebrate having so many people turn out …Find creative ways to keep folks occupied (like providing some sort of entertainment or snacks) while people wait at the polling place for their friends to make it through the lines. 


4.     Absentee Ballot parties. Westfield State in Massachusetts, held an absentee ballot party, where students could get their necessary ID info photocopied and have snacks while privately casting their ballots, addressing them, and stacking them to be mailed.  Other schools have given students stamps to mail back their ballots, so they won’t have to hunt them down.  And of course, election night parties let students come together to watch the returns come in.


5.     Display posters, banners, signs and sandwich boards (as permitted) around campus with various messages to encourage voting, remind of absentee ballot request deadlines, educate about what to bring the poll.  Use existing templates, order ready-made posters like those created by Common Cause or create your own.  Hand out iVote stickers which can go on everything from book covers to water bottles to bicycles.


6.     Provide chalk for students to chalk campus walkways with various messages and images to encourage voting, share websites and announce activities.


7.     Write op-eds and letters to editors for newspapers about the importance of each person’s vote, campus initiatives to engage students and such.  Encourage students to carve out the time both to make educated choices on issues and candidates and to figure out how and when they’ll fit voting into their lives.  Remind people to exercise their right to vote and be prepared in case the lines are long.


8.     Get students to sign a “Pledge to Vote”  - create a generic card to sign or send them to various online pledges (e.g., Rock the Vote, iLike to Vote) and pledges to vote for candidates and issues of folks’ choice.  If you create a pledge card, you could also include on it places for people to make specific commitments to themselves about WHEN they’ll learn about the issues and candidates and decide how to vote, HOW they’ll cast their ballot (at their polling place, at home via absentee ballot or by early voting), WHAT TIME they’ll got to the polls (or fill out their ballot), WHAT they’ll take with them to vote (e.g., identification, sample ballot, directions to polling place, friends), OTHER ARRANGEMENTS they’ll need to make to fit voting into their schedule and actually get to the polls, etc.
Encourage Faculty to distribute pledge cards in class and allow class time for students to make a plan and research the issues and candidates.


9.     Use social networking sites to carry various messages.  Use existing groups and causes and encourage students to post onto their sites so all their friends will vote.  
Consider placing ads these last two weeks on Facebook, targeting students on your campus.  Perhaps do a new ad each day with a slightly different message, including a countdown to remaining deadlines and to Election Day.  After the election, continue with “what’s next”-type messages to keep people involved.


10.  Set up mock polling places, perhaps in the student union, with sample ballots for students to practice voting and consider how they’ll voteUniversity of St. Francis (IN) conducted mock elections as part of their registration drives. Such dry runs now for new voters can help people assure they bring what they’ll need with them if they vote at the polls and encourage them to learn about issues and candidates before they enter the polling booth on November 4th.  Have written information available to help students both with the mechanics and the issues they’ll need to know about to vote.  You can also have stamps available so you can encourage absentee voters who complete their real ballots to send them in immediately.  And set up computers with lists of informational sites like League of Women Voters, Votesmart.org, NY Times Election Guide, On The Issues, Public Agenda & Vote Gopher.com for issues and candidates and The Brennan Center for Justice, 1-866-Our-Vote, & Go Vote for voter protection issues and local rules.


11.  Publicize polling locations near campus – including directions, hours and transportation options.




12.  It’s not too late to ask faculty to give students extra credit for volunteering in the campaigns of their choice and reporting back through journals, papers or classroom presentations.  If students get involved now, they’re more likely to be involved in future campaigns.  Many of the ideas in this list parallel campaign activities and faculty and staff can encourage students to participate directly, in ways that give them a chance to give voice to their own particular convictions.


13.  Volunteering at the polls or for initiative and campaigns on Election Day is a great way to be a bigger part of the process than simply casting your own vote. Students can knock on doors, make calls, or volunteer as poll-watchers with the candidates of their choice—playing a critical role in getting out the vote for the campaigns they support.


14.  Publish a list with campaign contact information (for all parties, candidates and initiatives) in the school newspaper  and encourage students to volunteer in these ongoing efforts.  Include also campus-initiated volunteer opportunities (like College Republicans or College Democrats or some listed here) that are in place so people can plug in easily.


15.  Get students to volunteer with local voter protection efforts through existing the existing campaigns . Law students can play a particular role volunteering with the non-partisan Election Protection coalition.


16.  Students can also sign up (and even get paid) as non-partisan poll-workers





17.  Display information on candidate platforms in the student union, blown up large enough so it’s visible to passing students. Also information on initiatives, which are likely to be far less high profile and therefore a source of far more confusion. You can find downloadable information on your state’s initiatives here.


18.  Ask your election board or League of Women’s Voters for the official non-partisan voters pamphlets for the area and place copies in key locations around campus.


19.  Hold formal and informal debates and discussion sessions where students can discuss issues and candidates with other students and help decide how they want to vote.  Screen election-related films such as The Young Candidate or Journeys through the Red, White and Blue or 18 in 08.


20.  Post lists of good websites for learning about issues and candidates in libraries, study areas, dorms and places where students use computers.


21.  Create a fun “Election Quiz” for students to take…in class, at lunch, at home.  See a sample for Indiana.



22.  Work with the campus IT department to sent reminder emails, voice-mails and text messages to every student on campus.  Message can include links to resources such as www.govote.org where students can find out where to vote and what they need to bring, and sites where they can verify registration.  Encouraging students to make a logistical plan for how and when they’ll cast their vote is helpful in addition to a simple reminder.  Check too that key campus websites have been updated include links to such useful voter information sites and include a countdown to Election Day.  
 Ideally at least one message could go out before deadlines to order an absentee ballot as a reminder for those cannot get to their polling place or vote early and a second message could be sent on November 3rd to remind all others to vote at the polls.


23.  If the prime polling place is off-campus, offer rides to the polls and encourage carpooling and going to the polls with friends.  (Some campuses have rented buses or vans to shuttle students from campus to their polling place, having worked out liability details.)


24.  Ask faculty to let students miss classes, if need be, to vote. This is particularly valuable at community colleges, where students often have little time between work and school, so can’t afford to stand in long lines.  Virginia’s Liberty University has cancelled all classes on Election Day and scheduled shuttle buses to take students to the polls. Their 10,500 students’ usual academic routine will be replaced with “an all-day concert on campus that will morph into an election party when the returns come in.”


25.  Parades to early voting sites or polling places. University of Colorado Denver is doing a parade of student voters to the nearby early voting site. Schools where the sites are further away can do this with carpools. Early voting is key, because it avoids the problems of jammed schedules or long polling place lines, plus it gives students a chance to correct any problems.  Then on November 4th, it can be repeated to make voting a community activity and celebrate having so many people voting …Plan for entertainment and snacks near the polling place while students wait in line or wait for their friends to make it through the lines.


26.  Ask students to text their friends and send Facebook messages to their friends with voting -reminders leading up to Election Day and on the day itself.


27.  Encourage “Take a Date to the Polls” and “Real Friends don’t let Friends Vote Alone” concepts to foster support within peer groups (use posters, messages, facebook ads, etc)


28.  Organize dorm storming on Election day. Knock on doors and offer rides or company going to the polls to registered students blowing it off at the last minute.  Make “I voted” buttons or stickers to give to people you find who have voted and invite others to get theirs once they do vote.


29.  Phone bank to all registered voters for whom you have phone numbers.  If you did a registration drive you should have these from your own efforts.  Otherwise, check with the county election board and purchase copies of registered voters. 


30.  Plan Election Night Parties to watch returns in student unions, dormitories, fraternities, sororities and other places where students gather.  Distribute a list of campaign parties around town as well so students can join in the celebrations in the community as well, particularly with campaigners.




31.  Encourage students to check out and verify their registration  If there’s a problem this lets them address it before it’s too late.


32.  Check state ID rules and let every student know what they need to bring to the polls. If useful, issue appropriate issue zero balance utility bills or personalized letters from the president to provide ID for students who’ve registered at dorm addresses.


33.  Distribute the election information number 1-866-OUR-VOTE (which connects you to volunteer lawyers who can answer questions and correct misinformation from poll-workers)  and plaster the campus with the Common Cause election protection posters. Contact Daryn Cambridge dcambridge@commoncause.org for free posters. Have student volunteers outside the polls with the election information number in case students have problems.  If problems do occur (and with this many new voters and twists and turns of election rules, they may well), it’s critical that any student whose vote is challenged knows to call this number for how to respond and cast their vote.




34.  Ask Faculty to incorporate activities after the election to keep students engaged.  This is especially important since a vast majority of voters have no plans to stay engaged after voting.  This could include reports from those who volunteered in election activities as well as pledges and planning to stay involved on issues they care about. 


35.  Student government and student activities can also convene town hall meetings, where students examine community needs, define local and national issues and explore on courses of action.  These could also draw in existing student-engagement groups like the PIRGs.


36.  Set up forums for students to discuss the “meaning” of the election results in the weeks after the election.  Invite parties and issue groups to table so students can consider ways to stay involved.


37.  If your school increased its student turnout from 2004, celebrate publicly.  Make sure every student knows this. Also look at what you did that worked best, and make plans for how to build on it and learn from the experience of other schools. Campus Compact will be updating their Campus Vote Initiative site,  www.compact.org/vote, to incorporate the great new ideas that people have come up with, so check back with them, and with your state Campus Compact, but also send any great stories or examples to your state Compact, so they can pass them on to the national office.  And thanks for everything you’ve done.   

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