Stanford a leader in national effort to get out the vote on college campuses

Stanford is currently ranked first in the nation for the most college students registered to vote on the digital voting platform TurboVote. The feat is the result of a major campus-wide campaign to increase voter registration and turnout this election season.

The national presidential election primary season is in full swing, including at Stanford where a massive, campus-wide campaign called StanfordVotes is working hard to encourage students and other university affiliates to heed their civic duty. Newly released data show that those efforts are paying off.

StanfordVotes volunteers help Stanford students register during an event on White Plaza. (Image credit: Peggy Propp)

Stanford registered more U.S.-eligible voters last month on the popular digital voting platform TurboVote than any other college or university. According to Virginia Bock, communications manager in the Haas Center for Public Service and communications lead for StanfordVotes, the group signed up 4,901 voters so far in 2020, compared with 928 voters in all of 2019.

“I think the majority of the lift was from the hard work of our student and staff volunteers,” Bock said. “We currently have 110 people from the Stanford community on our volunteer list, getting the word out.”

StanfordVotes – in partnership with the student group Stanford in Government – started this election cycle’s campaign earlier because it’s a presidential election year. Campaign activities began in September during New Student Orientation, where volunteers registered hundreds of new students to vote. Since then, volunteers have hosted numerous events and launched initiatives aimed at encouraging greater civic participation.

Efforts throughout campus

StanfordVotes has expanded online resources available to voters, including partnering with Stanford Libraries to create a new web page with many nonpartisan resources. Stanford in Government has begun hosting peer-to-peer gatherings in residences and other campus locations to encourage voting. Meanwhile, students at the Stanford Graduate School of Business have launched voter registration efforts, and Stanford Law School students have recruited students to work at voting centers and to monitor polls. Students in a Spanish language course recently participated in a phone drive to encourage new Spanish-speaking citizens in the community to vote. There is also a permanent registration station on the first floor of the Haas Center where people can get election and voter information, stamps for their ballots and register to vote online.

Undergraduate student Nova Meurice counts voters at the Iowa caucus at the Haas Center for Public Service on Feb. 3. (Image credit: Dylan Conn)

“Registration is just the first step,” Bock said. “The ultimate goal is to increase civic engagement, and the indicator of that will be an increase in our actual voting numbers.”

According to students Chase Small and Alex Chau, co-directors of StanfordVotes, the current campaign is more robust than previous campaigns, including the one for the 2018 midterm election.

“2018 was more focused on tabling events and individual outreach, while this election cycle we have worked to expand on institutionalized resources for student voting,” Small said.

“Most recently, we worked with the (university) registrar to put in place an Axess enrollment hold which provided students the opportunity to sign up on TurboVote,” Chau explained. “This has been underway since the 2018 cycle, so we are excited it is now in place.”

National primary voting this election season officially kicked off Feb. 3 in Iowa, where residents voted via caucuses held throughout the state. For the first time in Iowa’s history, state Democratic party officials approved 96 satellite caucus sites around the globe for state residents who couldn’t make it home to cast their vote. Two of those sites were in California, including one at Stanford organized by students Ahmi Dhuna and Nova Meurice. The event drew roughly 40 Iowans from around campus and the Bay Area to the Haas Center for Public Service, where they submitted their votes through the unusual method of caucusing.

Super Tuesday

On March 3 – known as Super Tuesday – 16 states will hold primaries, including California. For the first time, voters in Santa Clara County will be able to cast their ballots at Stanford, thanks to support from the Office of the President. Eligible county voters can vote early at a voting center in Tresidder Memorial Union between Feb. 29 and March 2 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Election Day, March 3, between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.

StanfordVotes was launched in the spring of 2018 with the goal of increasing the registration numbers and turnout among college students who historically vote less frequently and in lower numbers than older voters. Stanford students are no exception to this trend. According to the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE), only 48.1 percent of eligible Stanford undergrads, graduate students and postdocs voted in the 2016 presidential election, compared with an average of 50.4 percent among all higher education institutions nationally. An even smaller percentage of eligible Stanford students – fewer than one in five – participated in the 2014 midterm election.

“We aim to increase the culture of civic engagement with all students across campus,” said Small. “By reducing barriers for students to vote, we hope to get students in the mindset of voting regularly.”

Small and Chau are helping to organize the second annual Party at the Post Office on Tuesday, Feb. 18, from 2:15 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. All Stanford community members are encouraged to attend to fill out absentee request forms, send in their ballots and get forms notarized. Organizers will also be giving away free food from In-N-Out.

For more resources and information about voting, visit the StanfordVotes webpage.