Elon Votes! is dedicated to making every student voice heard this election year

With the ongoing pandemic, voting looks a little different this year. Read how Elon Votes!, the nonpartisan campus initiative, is helping students get their ballots ready for the upcoming election season.

Since 2014, Elon Votes! has promoted voter access and civic engagement across campus. As the university’s nonpartisan campus initiative, Elon Votes! has been working with the university to ensure that all Elon students can vote this year, no matter what.

“Elon Votes! will never have an opinion on where you vote, we only care that you do it,” said Cate Podell, director of civic engagement for Elon Volunteers.

Elon Votes! was created six years ago in response to outside partisan groups coming to campus and distributing voter registration forms, but not making students fully aware of the options available to them to register to vote in North Carolina or in their home state, if they were originally from somewhere else. Some students also found little support in the voter registration process and making sure their voter registration was successfully completed.

Those challenges promoted Elon to create an on-campus, university-affiliated voter registration organization that was nonpartisan and would accurately provide students from all 50 states with the voting information they needed to make their voice heard during election seasons. This continues to be the mission of Elon Votes!

This election season, Elon Votes! has assisted students with voter registration, requesting absentee ballots, changing their voting registration to North Carolina and other election-related tasks. Elon Votes! has a new office at Moseley 105F that is dedicated to the organization and is staffed from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays to provide students with any voting resources they might need. Elon Votes also has space in the Kernodle Center for Civic Life in Moseley 230. This Elon Votes location is staffed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each weekday.

On Tuesday mornings during College Coffee from 9:40 to 10:20 a.m., Elon Votes! can be found with a table at Speaker’s Corner outside Moseley Center. Students can stop by during this time to ask questions and bring any of their voting concerns to the staff there.

To provide the Elon community with as many voting resources as possible, Elon Votes! has launched a Voting Ambassadors program. The program is new this year and consists of trained students who represent the organization at different on-campus events, engage in presentations for different student organizations and act as another point of contact for students with any voting-related questions.

Elon Votes! is hoping to increase student voter turnout from 44 percent in 2016 to 50 percent this year. This year, Elon has been a national leader in voter registration. TurboVote, the program Elon Votes! uses to register and help Elon students to vote, has a leaderboard each month of the top 10 universities in the country for voter registration. According to the most recent numbers, Elon ranked fourth in the country in the percentage of undergraduates who have registered to vote (32 percent) and was No. 8 in total voter registrations through TurboVote

“We’re up there with like Princeton, Harvard and Stanford and those numbers are really really amazing. So our goal is to keep that moving, keep those number high and just register as many students as we possibly can,” Podell said.

Elon Votes! hopes to establish a relationship of trust with students on campus and make them feel very at ease and comfortable to ask the organization questions about voting. The organization has been increasing its presence this year, even as the university has seen fewer in-person events on campus this fall.

Andrea Sheetz, co-coordinator of Elon Votes! and an ambassador for The Andrew Goodman Foundation, says that colleges can be divisive places, with many students still discovering what they believe and where they fit in on the political spectrum.

“Right now we’re seeing and we understand that a lot of students may not exactly know where they fall,” Sheetz said. “And so we really want our events and our ambassadors and our leadership to really be that like, ‘it’s okay, like, we’re all here to learn.'”

Elon Votes! has delivered some of its election season programming virtually to ensure that Elon students can be civically engaged on campus amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A number of debate watch events the organization had hoped to hold in Moseley Center for a limited number of attendees have had to be canceled due to the pandemic.

In the meantime, Elon Votes! has encouraged students to watch the debates on their own with their roommates. Students could “register” their watch party and pick up a little gift bag of snacks from the Elon Votes! Office. During the debates, Elon students also have had the opportunity to interact with Elon Votes! coordinators via their social media to answer discussion questions and be entered to win an Oak House gift card.

Election day programming is still in the works, but students should be on the lookout for more information soon.

The energy around the election season is something that the organization has noticed and is grateful for.

“I think like people are reaching out to us from like departments all across campus,” Sheetz said. Students who none of us have ever met have said, ‘Oh, yeah, I know who you are.’ Civic engagement in the last few years has kind of been like this little circle, but it’s really getting out there and more people are getting involved and integrating it into the work that their departments are doing and the conversations they’re having. This issue is so much bigger than three of us, it’s so much bigger than this campus, so that has been one of the best parts for us,” Sheetz said.

During non-election years, Elon Votes! focuses on the education aspect of civic engagement. They typically host speakers throughout the academic year and partner with departments on campus engagement to facilitate conversations about how campus engagement works within the department’s area of expertise.

Elon students can register to vote by going to elon.edu/vote and using Turbo Vote. This computer program has state-specific information and will send users text notifications about important voting deadlines. Another resource available to students on the Elon Votes! website is called Campus Votes project, which shows a map of state-specific voting guidelines that students need to know before casting their ballots.

Any students with voting questions should visit the Elon Votes! website or stop by one of the Elon Votes! office locations during the hours mentioned above. Those who are interested in getting more involved with Elon Votes! should email elonvotes@elon.edu.