Last Wednesday and Thursday, the Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service voter registration initiative, GU Votes, registered more than 1,000 students to vote as part of its “Storm the Dorm” event. The drive helped students request their absentee ballots at dorms across campus.
The student-led initiative is now looking to register 1,500 students before the middle of October. More than 20 volunteers from various student organizations sat at tables in New South Hall, Village C West, Harbin Hall, Darnall Hall and Pedro Arrupe, S.J. Hall to help register students.
Students founded GU Votes last year as they sought out a means to register more voters and to increase political participation on campus in preparation for November’s presidential election between Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump.
GU Votes co-founder and Undergraduate Outreach Co-Chair Bethan Saunders (SFS ’17) worked with members of the GU Politics Student Advisory Board to find a way to revitalize the use of online voter registration program TurboVote after the Georgetown University Student Association used it in 2014.
Co-Chair for Undergraduate Outreach for GU Votes Omar Torres (COL ’18) said this initiative focuses on first-year students since they are most likely to be both eligible to vote and not yet registered.
“We thought of ‘Storm the Dorms’ to hit the freshman dorms, because those are the people who are turning 18 this year,” Torres said. “Those are the ones who maybe don’t know how to get registered or they don’t know what to do.”
Millennials have the lowest voter turnout of any age group. According to the Pew Research Center, only 46 percent of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 35 voted in the 2012 presidential election. This is in stark contrast with eligible voters over the age of 71, of which 72 percent voted.
According to Saunders, GU Votes’ current voter registration methods employ a greater use of technology than those of previous presidential campaigns, much like similar nationwide voter registration efforts.
“This is a very online-focused platform that makes it accessible to everyone,” Saunders said. “The online efforts to register voters is a national trend. Twitter, too, promoted National Voter Registration Day on Tuesday, Sept. 27.”
GU Votes sought to connect and engage with undergraduates and student organizations through campus and social media.
“This was our way of reaching out to the freshmen and sophomores and being very present,” Saunders said. “So we had our signs, we had our computers, we had all these flyers, and it was a way to get people registered.”
Various campus organizations worked with GU Politics to raise awareness of the program. Students of Georgetown, Inc. catered brownies to attract students, while GUSA, the Asian American Student Alliance, the NAACP chapter at Georgetown, Delta Phi Epsilon, Georgetown Weeks of Welcome, Students for D.C. Statehood, GU College Democrats and GU College Republicans all partnered with GU Votes to encourage students to register to vote.
A partnership with the Students of Color Alliance sought to increase voter registration rates among minority students.
GU Votes also received administrative guidance and support from the Office of the President, the Office of Community Engagement and the Office of Government Relations.
Jacqueline Beveridge (SFS ’19), a GU Votes member responsible for student volunteer engagement and coordination, tabled during the event Thursday evening and said she was pleased by the general enthusiasm and excitement.
“Voting can be intimidating because it seems like an intense process, but I was really impressed by how many students came up and asked questions about what they could do to vote and get their absentee ballot,” Beveridge said.
Torres, who is from Puerto Rico, cannot vote in presidential or congressional races, but said he recognizes the importance of civic engagement.
“I feel like it’s really important to make people participate because you have a right, and some people maybe have that right limited, so you might as well take advantage of it and try to affect the outcome of an election,” Torres said.
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.