Empowering voters in 2020
How #MarquetteVotes is engaging student voters this election cycle
Dr. Amber Wichowsky, associate professor of political science in the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences, directs the Marquette Democracy Lab (MDL) — a research initiative that brings together faculty, students and community organizations to study and strengthen civic life in our schools and communities. In addition, Wichowsky’s own research has explored individuals’ decisions to participate in the electoral process and the factors that shape their feelings of political power.
This summer, Wichowsky was approached by student Savannah Charles with a question: could she work with other students to launch a campus-wide effort to increase student voting participation in the 2020 presidential election?
Wichowsky and Charles discussed the barriers college students face when it comes to registering to vote, the particular challenges posed by the pandemic and the opportunities to use social media and other peer-to-peer engagement methods to help Marquette students exercise their voting rights.
Soon, the two were talking to others and learning about other non-partisan efforts to increase student voting participation at Marquette. Within a week, Marquette Votes was launched on Twitter and Instagram.
But a social media campaign would also need students, resources and a plan.
The campaign quickly joined forces with the Center for Urban Research, Teaching & Outreach (CURTO), led by Dr. Rob S. Smith, Harry G. John Profess of History in the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences. Together, they dug into the data on Marquette’s voting participation rates from 2014–18, as reported in the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE), to see how voting participation rates vary across the university’s colleges and departments and over time. These data informed a set of strategies to increase student voting participation rates in 2020.
“Teaching political science, I care deeply about electoral participation. It is such an important way in which we can make our voices heard in the political process,” Wichowsky says. “At Marquette, we have an obligation to make sure students are informed and empowered to exercise their voting rights.”
Here are the things MDL has done — and is continuing to do — to better engage student voters and increase student voter participation in the presidential election:
Create a student connection, harness campus community partnerships
After compiling the data from past elections, MDL and CURTO applied to make Marquette a member of the Campus Vote Project — an organization that aims to empower students with the information they need to vote. Marquette’s membership made the university eligible for additional resources. They submitted their findings and ideas for new and improved strategies to the Students Learn Students Vote Coalition — a national organization that provides funding, resources and connections to help campus and other local leaders plan and deploy best practices to grow the population of student voters.
The university was selected for the grant and with the funding, MDL and CURTO helped students organize the Marquette Votes campaign. The group consists of student fellows supported through the Andrew Goodman Foundation, Campus Vote Project and the Campus Election Engagement Project, along with 12 other undergraduate and graduate students from across campus. Grant funds were also used to support other student organizations interested in non-partisan electoral engagement efforts.
Finally, Marquette Votes collaborated with Near West Side Partners on a Get Out the Vote campaign to inform residents about polling locations, voting deadlines and vote-by-mail procedures amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Elevate voter registration information
MDL and CURTO worked together not only to apply for the Students Learn Students Vote Coalition grant, but also to outline the most effective ways to promote voter registration.
For the last several weeks leading up to Election Day, students with Marquette Votes, along with staff from the Offices of Student Affairs and Public Affairs have helped student voters — particularly those having difficulty with the process perhaps because they are newly eligible to vote, are voting out-of-state or are unfamiliar with the vote-by-mail criteria and other voting options as a result of the pandemic.
Marquette Votes students have directed fellow students to marquette.edu/vote — the one-stop website for information about the election — and helped answer questions about completing voter registration forms on turbovote.org. Wichowsky credits MUSG’s leadership for supporting TurboVote, an online tool to help students with voter registration and voting by mail.
Polling locations and where specific students are assigned to vote in person, were also a frequently asked question that this registration group had helped students resolve.
Another voter assistance effort that proved helpful was Early Voter Walking Buddies.
Walking Buddies is a service organized by Marquette’s Center of Community Service in which voter-eligible students were escorted from campus to the Frank P. Zeidler Municipal Building where they participated in early voting, Oct. 20-Nov. 1. Marquette Votes helped chaperone registered students to the building and assisted with any questions the student voters had at the polling location.
Build a strong presence
The students involved with the Marquette Votes campaign had different roles in connecting with specific groups in the university to assure all students received an effective message. Students were in charge of targeting specific colleges in which they will spread awareness to classmates by working with deans and professors to bring attention in the classroom to the importance of the upcoming elections.
Others were responsible for educating and involving those living in residence halls, commuters and off-campus housing through posters, street signs, on-campus tabling and virtual announcements.
Wichowsky says Marquette Votes is working with student organizations on campus to increase voter and election awareness.
“Reaching these kinds groups is important,” Wichowksy says, because peer-to-peer engagement within established social networks, is an important way that students become motivated to vote.”
Be connected, stay connected
A group of MDL students are also tasked with overseeing and attracting election and voter awareness through social media — specifically through the Marquette Votes Instagram and Twitter accounts.
“Given the pandemic and the constraints on hosting on-campus events, social media is a really important way to connect with students and share important information about the voting process this year” Wichowsky says.
Wichowsky says Marquette Votes will continue to build its ideas through local voting and educating others on the importance of political involvement whether it be at the local, state or national level.
“Politics is about how we come together and address shared problems,” Wichowsky says. “The challenge is to think not just about the separation of red state and blue states, or the divides between Democrats and Republicans, but also about how we can build an inclusive political community that deliberates and decides about what should be done to address those problems.”