UD students rank high in civic engagement
Photo by Evan Krape October 28, 2020
Campus organizations competed to register new voters
University of Delaware students are among the most civically-engaged in the country, according to the voter registration platform Turbovote. Turbovote tracked new voter registration in August and September 2020, and UD students were near the top in the recently-released rankings. UD was third in total new voters registered from Aug. 1 through Sept. 30, and third in new voters registered on Sept. 22 — National Voter Registration Day.
UD’s success on National Voter Registration Day resulted from collaboration across campus, facilitated by the Student Voting and Civic Engagement Steering Committee. The steering committee and partner organizations organized a friendly campus competition to encourage participation in National Voter Registration Day (NVRD). More than 100 UD student groups and organizations competed to register new voters through Turbovote — an easy to use web application that helps eligible U.S. citizens register to vote, request an absentee ballot, and sign-up for Election Day text and/or email reminders.
The UD Cheer and Mascot team won the University’s competition with 143 registrations. Independence Residence Hall, the UD football team, Harrington Theatre Arts Company and Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority rounded out the top five finishers in the UD competition. Each group logged 100 or more new voter registrations.
“One hallmark of a democracy is that its citizens are engaged and active members of that society. The number who registered in Turbovote during the NVRD competition is indicative of UD students’ commitment to being engaged citizens,” said Kathleen Kerr, associate vice president in the Division of Student Life and co-chair of the Student Voting and Civic Engagement Steering Committee.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic made the achievement particularly impressive.
“We poured all of our energy and creativity into making this competition as engaging as it could be, tasked with the nearly impossible feat of finding a substitute for in-person interaction and excitement,” said Anya Sen, president of Make It Count — a non-partisan registered student organization. “When we would tally our new registrations at the end of each day, we were blown away at the unprecedented numbers we were seeing.”
Make It Count, founded at UD in 2017, made voter registration and increased voter turnout in all elections — including midterms — key goals of the organization. Make It Count provides important voter resources to as many students as possible, and is working to continue supporting the mission in new, digital formats.
“In an election where college students historically vote a lot less than any other demographic, the 2,100-plus registrations that were facilitated through the initiative actually have the ability to create a large impact,” Sen said. “We don't care who students vote for, we just want to make sure that every student is voting and making sure their voice is heard."
Civic engagement activities on campus
The UD Student Voting and Civic Engagement Steering Committee was created in 2019 to amplify existing opportunities for UD students to get involved.
“We look for opportunities for students to engage in free exchange of ideas, discourse about those ideas, the democratic process of voting, political debates and campaigns for elected office, among other civic engagement activities,” said Kerr. “The steering committee includes representatives from all campus constituencies — faculty, staff, undergraduate students and graduate students — working together to ensure that students are aware of campus engagement opportunities and creating new ones when a need exists.”
One new upcoming opportunity is “Let’s Talk: Key Conversations for Today.” This series of conversations, sponsored by the Division of Student Life and facilitated by faculty experts, will begin the first week of November and will offer students weekly opportunities to discuss the election, subsequent fallout, and implications.
The steering committee helps facilitate connections and collaboration between existing groups on campus, including Our Vote, Residence Life and Housing, Make It Count and the Biden Institute. The group also ensured that Blue Hens have access to available opportunities through a civic engagement section of the student life virtual hub.
According to the National Study of Learning Voting and Engagement (NSLVE), the voting rate among UD students in the 2014 midterm election was 22.3% — about average for voter turnout in midterm elections. Midterm voting by UD students increased by 30% in 2018. This improvement earned national recognition and a “gold seal” from the All In Campus Democracy Challenge.
National Rankings from Turbovote
Total registrations Fall 2020 (Aug. 1 - Sept. 30):
Stanford University - 3,291
University of Chicago - 3,133
University of Delaware - 2,377
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor - 2,146
Harvard University - 2,107
Washington University in St Louis - 1,962
University of Florida - 1,603
Elon University - 1,570
Princeton University - 1,478
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - 1,411
Total registrations on National Voter Registration Day (Sept. 22):
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - 686
University of Florida - 426
University of Delaware - 412
University of South Florida - 411
Arizona State University - 296
Boston College - 269
Yale University - 247
Johns Hopkins University - 239
University of Pittsburgh - 222
Massachusetts Institute of Technology - 215