Elon Votes! makes civic engagement its mission
An Elon University student organization is helping to register people to vote, and its leaders are already planning a variety of fall events around the 2016 election.
By Xernay Aniwar ‘17
Whether it’s Donald Trump’s latest remarks being discussed in class, or a political meme going viral on Facebook, the 2016 presidential election has been a hot topic – and Elon University students Gabby Vance and June Shuler hope that the excitement brings a fresh wave of participation in the democratic process.
Vance and Shuler are leading Elon Votes!, a nonpartisan initiative created to provide students with the necessary resources to register to vote.
Hosted by the Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement, Elon Votes! has partnered nationally with TurboVote, an initiative that helps students to register to vote at no cost. TurboVote also sends out reminders and absentee ballots to students who are from out-of-state.
Vance and Shuler agreed that one of the biggest challenges is getting the word out to students about their new organization. “I have a very strong passion for civic engagement especially for young people,” said Vance, a Leadership Fellow and a vocal advocate for civic engagement who has published columns on the topic in The Pendulum student newspaper.
Shuler said that a majority of students attend Elon from across the country and are not North Carolina natives. Therefore, she said, they require absentee ballots to vote.
As absentee regulations vary by state, helping students navigate has been challenging.
“Often students do not realize that signing up for TurboVote is only the first step toward receiving an absentee ballot,” Shuler said. The Kernodle Center now serves as a place for students to get registered, find answers about absentee voting and send documents if in need of envelopes or postage stamps.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 60 percent of non-voters cite lack of time, inconvenience of polling places, and registration problems as reasons they didn’t vote in the 2012 election. Elon Votes! wants to make sure all eligible Elon students don’t have an excuse not to cast ballots in November.
Bob Frigo, associate director of the Kernodle Center and staff advisor for Elon Votes!, said the organization is partnering with Elon’s Political Engagement Work Group to organize events in the months ahead to prompt conversation about the election.
“Look for presidential debate events in the Moseley Center, conversations at College Coffee, rides to the polls, and an election night watch event,” he said.
Elon Votes! has already received collaborative support from Political Science, Study USA, the Center for Leadership, the Student Government Association, and Residence Life and has reached out to potential partners such as the College Republicans, College Democrats, The Pendulum, and Elon Local News.
The campus group was founded two years by Meredith Berk ’15, the university’s first Andrew Goodman Foundation Ambassador. The Andrew Goodman Foundation, named for a Freedom Rider killed in Mississippi by the Ku Klux Klan during the “Freedom Summer” of 1964, empowers future generations to initiate social action on college campuses. Vance, of Millersville, Maryland, and Shuler, who comes to Elon from Switzerland, are the university’s current Andrew Goodman Foundation Ambassadors.
Elon Votes! grew out of a collaboration started several years ago between the Kernodle Center and Political Science faculty members Jason Husser and Matt Weidenfeld
Students can visit www.elon.edu/vote to learn more about how to register to vote, obtain an absentee ballot, and ways to participate in the democratic process. Any student can visit the Kernodle Center in Moseley 230 for assistance with the voter registration process.