Elon's nonpartisan voter registration and civic engagement initiative continues to provide students with the necessary resources to properly cast their votes. Here's how.
Since 2014, Elon Votes! has been a nonpartisan voter registration and civic engagement initiative on Elon’s campus. This organization works throughout the year to provide students with the necessary resources needed to both register to vote and to cast their ballots in various elections. Elon Votes! is currently located in the Kernodle Center and is managed by student coordinators and Andrew Goodman Foundation Ambassadors Ellie Snyder ’20 and Andrea Sheetz ’22.
Prior to the creation of Elon Votes!, Elon had issues with voter registration groups coming onto campus trying to register students while walking to classes.
“There were issues with this because most of the time these groups were only handing out North Carolina voter registration forms,” Snyder said. “Every single state has a different registration situation, so only having North Carolina forms meant that students could only register in North Carolina. They didn’t always make this clear to students, so some of them were signing these forms, first years especially, unbeknownst to them that it was a North Carolina registration. Then to further that, some of those organizations were partisan or didn’t accurately see through the final registration process.”
Elon decided to create an on-campus Elon affiliated voter registration organization that was nonpartisan and would provide students from all 50 states with the information they needed to both register and vote correctly.
Elon Votes! partners with the Andrew Goodman Foundation, which was founded by the family of Andrew Goodman, one of three college students killed during Freedom Summer, the voter registration project during the Civil Rights Era that focused on registering African Americans to vote in Mississippi.
Both Snyder and Sheetz have attended conferences through the Andrew Goodman Foundation. At these conferences, they’ve learned about leadership development and what other schools are doing in terms of voter registration and civic engagement.
With the help of this foundation, Elon Votes! has been a resource to help students easily and legally register to vote. Elon supports the effort with the TurboVote system that helps Snyder and Sheetz manage all of the different laws for the students coming from all 50 states. Elon Votes! also has stamps available for students when mailing ballots/voter registration paperwork and they’re currently working on gathering a list of notaries for absentee ballots as well.
The organization works throughout to host various events geared toward civic engagement and the events of modern-day politics.
“We do some programming surrounding major political events,” Sheetz said. “We just had one for the democratic debate watch party. We’ll have them for all the upcoming debates as long as it works for the academic calendar. We had them for State of the Union Address. We’ll have one on election night. Really any major thing where we sense students want to watch or get involved, we’ll provide a space for them to do that.”
Snyder and Sheetz view Elon Votes! as a way to continue their passion for democracy, voting and civic engagement. Snyder came to Elon prepared to major in business, but quickly realized she wanted to pursue something else. After attending a conference about civic engagement on college campuses and realizing she was passionate about politics, Snyder found Elon Votes!
“I realized it wasn’t just a hobby, it could be a huge part of my life,” she said. “I’ve always loved voting and through various conversations, I started learning more about Elon Votes! and its nonpartisan mission. I think voting is an incredible, incredible part of our democracy and because I was so passionate about it, I decided to apply for the coordinator position. I’m very fortunate that through a series of things I ended up here with this organization.”
Sheetz had a similar experience.
“I was originally a political science/policy studies major, but I realized that I didn’t love intensely studying it like I thought I would,” Sheetz said. “I ended up finding a couple of other majors that I loved more. I almost felt like I was betraying myself. I loved political science, why am I not doing this? But then when I started to have that conflict with myself, Elon Votes! started to do a lot of stuff with the midterms. I was getting engaged then and I saw that as a way to balance what I love, even though it wasn’t what I was studying.”
Elon Votes! falls under the umbrella Elon Volunteers, and Civic Engagement Director Sophie Gerth, who works closely with Elon Votes! There are also various faculty, staff and students on Elon’s political engagement workgroup who collaborate with the organization.
“It’s just an amazing group of dedicated people who are so passionate and so driven. It is such a good environment. The work we do is important, but it’s the people we work with, which is also a huge part of why I’m involved with this.”
“My favorite part about this is there is only one political science professor in the workgroup. It’s more than political science. It’s applicable to everyone,” Sheetz said.
Elon Votes! is planning various events and discussions throughout the year while keeping the 2020 election in mind. Snyder and Sheetz are very excited for what’s ahead.
“It’s going to be big,” Snyder said.
Following North Carolina’s passage of a new voter ID law that will take effect in 2020, the university is now offering a special Elon Phoenix Voter Card. Students who plan to vote in North Carolina who do not have a North Carolina issued driver license or any of other form of ID required by the state board of elections can obtain this card. Students can pick up their Elon Phoenix Voter Card from the Phoenix Card office. Once students obtain this card, it will serve as their Phoenix Card and full-time student ID.
According to the National Study of Learning, Voting, And Engagement (NSLVE), a total of 10.7 percent of Elon students voted in the 2014 midterm elections. That number nearly tripled for the 2018 midterm elections – 29.4 percent of Elon students cast their ballots last year. This means that Elon’s voter turnout is already on the rise, which would not be possible without the efforts of Elon Votes!
To make all of these voting opportunities and events possible for Elon students, the organization is constantly looking for volunteers. While Elon Votes! is not a club that has weekly meetings, it is a non-partisan initiative that functions off a volunteer base.
“That’s what makes us different. Of course, as individuals, we have our own political ideologies, but as a group we’re nonpartisan,” Snyder said.
Elon Votes! is always in need of volunteers to work various events, help with college coffee, stuff mailboxes with postcards, etc. With more events and new forms of branding, they are hoping to expand their volunteer base.
If students or staff are interested in hearing more about how they can get involved with this organization or have any questions related to voting and civic engagement, feel free to stop by the Kernodle Center or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information can be found on the group’s website.