AMES, Iowa — Iowa State University students and campus leaders are doing everything possible to encourage students to register to vote and to make a voting plan for the November general election.
As the election and various deadlines approach, ISU students and the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics are working to get the word out in a variety of ways.
“This is an unusual election year. Iowa is considered a swing state, so there is a lot of national interest in who Iowans will choose for president, Senate and the U.S. House,” said Karen Kedrowski, director of the Catt Center. “Add to this the pandemic, and this election is just like no other.”
In the 2018 midterm elections, ISU student voter turnout was 40.6%, according to the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement. That’s higher than the national average of 39.1% and a significant jump from the university’s 2014 voting rate of 22.6%. In 2016, ISU student voter turnout was 55.1%, compared to the U.S. average of 50.4%.
“Iowa State student voter turnout is normally at about the national average,” Kedrowski said. “We would like to top that and be better than the national average.”
So, the Catt Center and student organization Vote Everywhere are coordinating student voter engagement activities for this fall and beyond. The student organization received funding from the Andrew Goodman Foundation to help with promotional materials, technical support and stipends for student leaders.
“Any dissatisfaction that is present in our politics can, at the very least, be helped by improving the rate of voter participation,” said Zachary Johnson, junior in political science and president of Vote Everywhere, from Ely. “This is especially true among those who do not typically engage with government. There is a lot of potential this year to bring into the conversation on important issues more people whose voices were not previously heard on this campus.”
The initiative includes posters in residence halls and across campus, a guide for community advisors (CAs) to understand and share information about voting with their residents, mailers to students living off campus, and updating the www.vote.iastate.edu website so that it encompasses all elections and not solely ISU Student Government.
A one-stop-shop for voting information
Another student committee also worked to create voter information stations.
“Voting is habitual. If you start voting early, you’ll continue to vote,” said Sehba Faheem, senior in biological systems engineering and ISU Student Government senator representing Schilletter and University Village Apartments and serving on the Civic Engagement Committee, from Huntley, Illinois. “It’s hard for students to find the time to figure out who the candidates are and how to vote. It’s so important to have all of this information in one place.”
That’s why the committee, including recent industrial design graduate Taylor Blair, came up with the idea for voter information stations, the latest project in a years-long effort at Iowa State to increase student voter engagement and break down barriers. Student ISUCards issued after June 1, 2020, are valid voter identification. And two years ago, a voter address page was added to the student information system AccessPlus to show proof of residency at the polls.
The voter information stations were recently installed in every ISU residence hall and on-campus apartment, as well as in high-traffic areas around campus like the Memorial Union, Beardshear Hall, Parks Library, College of Design, Marston Hall and the Sukup Atrium.
The stations include information about registering to vote, voting methods, important deadlines and what voters need to bring to the polls. And the stations themselves are not specific to 2020, so they can be reused for future elections.
“While this project was student-led, it shows an investment by Iowa State and their recognition that it is also their responsibility to help students vote – especially the Department of Residence, since voting is tied to residency,” said Blair, who served as a College of Design senator and on Student Government’s Civic Engagement Committee when he was at Iowa State.
Especially with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, students wanted to create a safe, physically distanced opportunity for students to get information about voting. The Catt Center and Vote Everywhere are encouraging students to register and vote early, and to have a contingency voting plan in place.
Students partnered with the League of Women Voters of Ames and Story County as well as the Story County auditor’s office to ensure all of the information at the stations was accurate.
They will also organize virtual debate watch parties, publicize candidate forums by the League of Women Voters, and develop nonpartisan messages about voting and candidates.
The university is participating in a variety of national and regional student voter engagement programs, including the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, the Voter Friendly Campus initiative, the Big XII Votes Challenge and the Iowa Votes Challenge.
While students are still providing information at their typical voter registration drives outside on campus – now with face coverings and physical distance – the Catt Center and Vote Everywhere know they need to get the word out in a variety of ways. This fall, they’re popping in to online meetings and sharing information through the learning management platform Canvas and in emails to ISU students.
“Let’s show the state and the country that Cyclones vote,” Kedrowski said. “Make a plan and make your voice heard in 2020.”