Elon Votes! engaging students ahead of 2020 election

The university’s nonpartisan campus initiative to promote voting and civic engagement is hosting a series of debate watch parties, information sessions and other events to prepare students for the Nov. 3 election.

In just six weeks, millions of Americans will head to the polls to cast their ballots in the 2020 presidential election. As Nov. 3 approaches, student leaders at Elon are doing their part to make sure the campus community is prepared to engage in the civic process.

Elon Votes! is a nonpartisan organization aiming to help Elon students engage in democracy by registering to vote and casting their ballots in upcoming elections. Elon Votes! is encouraging students to register to vote prior to their state’s posted deadline. Visit www.elon.edu/vote to learn more about the voter registration process.

With many members of the organization’s target audience voting for the first time this year, Elon Votes! is hosting a number of events to help them stay informed and engaged in meaningful dialogue while reminding them of the power of their vote.

“I have never paid more attention to my governor, or my local school board, or anything like that more than I have in the last six months,” said Andrea Sheetz ’22, co-coordinator of Elon Votes! “I think we’re really seeing how decisions on every level affect us. I think really if anyone has the slightest opinion about what they’ve seen in the past six months, they have the power to do something about it.”

The Elon Votes! student leaders have planned several events ahead of the 2020 election. A series of presidential debate watch parties will give students the opportunity to hear from presidential and vice presidential candidates on the issues and engage in a nonpartisan opportunity for open dialogue.

If possible, the events will be hosted with a small number of students, wearing masks and following physical distancing requirements, on the first floor of Moseley Center. Space for each party is limited and attendance will require an RSVP. The watch parties are scheduled for the following dates:

The in-person watch event for the Sept. 29 presidential debate has been canceled. Students are encouraged to watch the event with their roommate(s) in the former of a tiny debate watch party.

Elon Votes! is encouraging students who cannot attend the watch parties to host their own private viewings with their roommate(s) while following all COVID-19 safety protocols. Students who sign up to host their own viewings will receive a gift bag containing popcorn, candy, Elon Votes! buttons and stickers, and questions for students to answer during each debate for the chance to win an Oak House gift card.

“We’re hoping that students and their roommates will get together and watch the debates,” said Cate Podell ’22, director of civic engagement for the Elon Votes! parent organization Elon Volunteers! “Having this outlet for students to have meaningful discussions is so crucial.”

The organization is also in the process of planning an Election Night watch party in Great Hall on Nov. 3. Along with watch parties, Elon Votes! is hosting weekly tabling sessions outside Moseley Center to answer student questions and presenting on civic engagement to Elon 101 classes and at events across campus.

Members of Elon Votes! recently hosted a “Political Party” to kick off fall semester and promote participation in this year’s election.

The Elon Political Engagement Work Group began planning for these events a year ago, and the Elon Votes! team spent the summer reimagining them as COVID-19 forced changes to a number of their plans. All summer, the group met virtually, attended seminars and worked around the clock to find ways to continue to engage the student body in the election process, keeping in mind the need for physical distancing.

“We really had to revamp everything we do because our in-person services really are some of the biggest things we try to do,” said Elon Votes! Co-Coordinator Trevor Molin ’23.

Some of the organization’s in-person offerings have continued, as student voting ambassadors are available for office hours from Monday to Friday, between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., for any student looking to have their election questions answered. These efforts are aimed at engaging the student body early on in the voting process.

“If we can get students to vote now, it creates life-long voters,” said Carrie Eaves, associate professor of political science and policy studies and Faculty Fellow for Civic Engagement. “We’re trying to make voting a habit for them, so capturing them early and getting them civically engaged now when it’s their first opportunity is so important to set them up to be participatory in their government for the rest of their lives.”

Housed in the Kernodle Center for Civic Life, Elon Votes! was founded in 2014 by former Kernodle Center student leader Meredith Berk ’15 and Associate Director of the Kernodle Center Bob Frigo to provide students with the necessary resources to register to vote and cast their ballots in upcoming elections, a mission that continues across campus today.

“The election this year provides a crucial opportunity for students to take part in our democracy and be active contributors to civic life,” Frigo said. “It also provides an opportunity for students to engage with beliefs different from their own, understand multiple perspectives, and learn how to utilize civil dialogue to find common ground with others with whom they disagree.”

Elon Votes! has recently earned the university national recognition for its voter registration efforts. According to TurboVote, a tool that guides students through the voter registration process, Elon University is ranked in the nation’s top 10 in total voters registered with more than 900 this semester. It is the second time that Elon has been named to the top 10 in fall 2020.

Elon students have access to TurboVote through Elon Votes!, giving them the opportunity to learn about registering to vote, requesting an absentee ballot and other parts of the civic process. To access your TurboVote account, click here.

For more information about Elon Votes! and preparing for the 2020 election, visit www.elon.edu/vote.

Students can also visit the Kernodle Center for Civic Life in Moseley Center for help with voter registration and absentee ballot forms, and to obtain stamps and envelopes to assist them in casting their ballots this fall.