Emory Votes Initiative, a grassroots effort begun on campus during the 2018 election season, celebrated National Voter Registration Day with a virtual event open to the community.
The Sept. 22 event was designed to share information and resources that can help voters find their own path to the polls. Participating speakers – including students, faculty and staff – also emphasized why voting matters to every age group.
Emory President Gregory L. Fenves opened the event with comments about the importance of voting and civic engagement.
“It’s not only about voting,” Fenves told viewers. “It truly is about civic engagement, about every citizen participating. It depends on everybody listening, learning, speaking, being involved and ultimately casting your vote.”
Fenves shared memories of when he first became a registered voter after the eligible voting age dropped from 21 to 18. “It was such a new thing for 18-year-olds to be able to vote,” he recalled. “It really is important for young people not only to vote in this election, but in every election — to make that part of your civic responsibility.”
Those sentiments were echoed by students and faculty participating in panel discussions and sharing voting-related public service announcements during the event.
“A lot of the people and the policies that we’re voting on will have as much, or more, of an impact on us than they would on older voters simply because we’re so young,” said Faith McHan, a first-year student from Lilburn, Georgia, who serves as an EVI ambassador. “Voting is not just filling out a ballot and getting a sticker. It’s having a direct say in what you want your future to be.”
“Students often don’t vote because they don’t feel like their voice matters,” said Chris Beck, professor of pedagogy in the Department of Biology. “But your voice can’t be heard if you don’t actually say something. The way we go about saying something is registering and voting — getting to the ballot box or filling out that absentee ballot. That’s the way our voices are heard.”
Planning to be heard
The Emory Votes Initiative is now sponsored and supported by Campus Life and the Office of the Provost.
“We know that young adults between the ages of 18 to 29 vote at the lowest rate of any age group, so there is room to improve when it comes to getting students registered and turning out to vote,” says James Roland, senior director for the Center for Civic and Community Engagement.
But focused get-out-the-vote efforts can make a big difference on college campuses, he adds.
During the fall 2018 mid-term election, Emory faculty, staff and students were engaged at higher rates than ever before. They registered to vote at campus events, boarded Emory Votes shuttles to polling stations and submitted absentee ballots, earning recognition in the 2019 ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge awards ceremony.
This year, the EVI is encouraging all eligible voters to start now to make a plan to vote. And no matter where you are learning or working this semester, one of the easiest ways to begin is by signing up for the online TurboVote platform, says Hallie Dowling-Huppert, assistant director of civic and community engagement.
By filling in a few online forms, prospective voters can kick-start official election paperwork and sign up to receive text or email reminders of key dates, voting locations and ballot information; confirm voter registration and mail-in ballot status; view a sample ballot or request an absentee or mail-in ballot.
And TurboVote is not just intended for students or first-time voters. The EVI encourages everyone to sign up, and anyone whose mailing address or vote-by-mail preferences have changed should sign up again, Roland emphasizes.
The EVI website also contains a Path to the Polls resource that offers tips for crafting your own voting timeline, registration and vote-by-mail deadlines, dates for early in-person voting and frequently asked questions. The site also provides a faculty toolkit to help introduce civic engagement and voter registration in the classroom, information on voting-related volunteer opportunities and helpful voter resources.
The goal of the website is to provide an assortment of materials “that benefit everyone in the Emory community — students, faculty, staff and alumni,” Roland adds. “It’s really an opportunity for anyone who wants to vote.”
Extra help for students
This fall for the first time, every entering Emory undergraduate also encountered voter registration opportunities as part of orientation, through their PACE 101 class (Emory campus) or Discovery Seminar (Oxford campus).
Throughout September and October, trained Emory Votes ambassadors will lead peer-to-peer online workshops to help fellow students navigate the process of registering and voting by mail with a series of special events, including: Mail-In Mondays; TurboVote Tuesdays; Registration Wednesday; and Ballot Request Thursdays.
At Oxford College, voter registration information will also be available at campus tables during “Take A Break Tuesday” and student ambassadors will meet virtually with peers to answer specific questions leading up to the general election.
“Our emphasis is really on voter registration — explaining what’s on the ballot, helping voters understand a candidate’s position, the nuances of voting in Georgia — not having political debates,” says Ricardo Horne, assistant director of student involvement and leadership at Oxford College.
Leading up to the Nov. 3 election, EVI will also join other campus groups to promote a series of online events and pre-election activities for the Emory community, including virtual debate watch parties, with the capability to connect people from across the country and the globe. For more information and an updated calendar, visit here.
Interested voters may also sign up to subscribe to a biweekly e-newsletter, “Emory Votes Notes,” and track upcoming events by following EVI on Facebook and Instagram (#emoryvotes). For more information and an updated calendar, visit here.