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Voting Rate Surges at Beloit College

The voting rate among Beloit College students nearly doubled between 2014 and 2018, according to a September 2019 report by the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) at Tufts University.

Daksha Howard, the Coordinator for the college’s Office of Student Success, Equity and Community (SSEC), told the Round Table on Jan. 29 that in 2017, she and Professor of History Beatrice McKenzie began using campus events and student employees of SSEC (formerly the Office of Inclusive Living and Learning and the Office of Academic Diversity and Inclusivity) to increase voter registration on campus.

Professor McKenzie, who is a member of the League of Women Voters, had been distributing information on campus about voter registration for years before this initiative, according to Howard. “I think this woman is amazing… she’s so influential,” Howard said of McKenzie. 

Today, nearly all voter registration on campus is completed by students, rather than faculty or staff members. “It’s that peer factor that works better,” explained Howard. Students who are trained to register their peers to vote “are learning firsthand what it means to serve your country,” she added. SSEC student employees have discovered that Java Joint is one of the best locations to set up voter registration tables, because the cafe is one of the campus’s most universal hangout spots.

The NSLVE study found that 41.2 percent of Beloit students voted in the 2018 United States midterm elections, on November 6 of that year, which was up from 21.1 percent of the student body in the previous U.S. midterm elections in November 2014. The 2018 voting rate for all higher education institutions in the U.S. was 39.1 percent—up from 19.7 percent in 2014—and 38.1 percent among private bachelor’s institutions in the country, up from 16.7 percent. NSLVE reported similarly notable increases in voting rates among U.S. institutions across the board.

Among 18- to 29-year-olds nationally, voter turnout was 20 percent in 2014, and 36 percent in 2018.

“Freedom Marches” organized by what was then the Office of Inclusive Living and Learning that preceded elections between 2016 and 2018 also encouraged voter registration and turnout. The theme of the 2018 Freedom March, held in October, was “Your Vote, Your Voice.”

On the evening of the November 2018 election, SSEC staff and student employees shuttled students as well as community members to and from voting locations, and rounded up registered voters in Commons dining hall and other well-trafficked parts of campus.

Among Beloit students, the number of newly registered voters rose by just 25 individuals in 2018 (to reach 768), but the number of individuals who voted rose by 187 (to 422), according to NSLVE. Those data indicate that while increased on-campus efforts to boost registration still succeeded in signing up hundreds of new voters within the student body, many more of those students were also motivated to take the time to get to a polling place on or before election day. 55 percent of Beloit students who were registered to vote did so in 2018, compared to 31.6 percent in 2014.

The data appear to take into account both students registered to vote in Rock County and those who were registered in their home states or counties, as NSLVE reports that 21.8 percent of students voted absentee in 2018. The study indicates that the student body fell by 23 individuals between the two midterm elections and that the number of students eligible to vote (U.S. citizens over the age of 18) fell by 88, but those statistics aren’t factored into the final percentages. The study also doesn’t provide the total number of students who are registered to vote on campus, only those who were newly registered in a given year.

NSLVE also found that fewer Beloit students voted in person on election day in 2018 than in 2014, but that more voted early, absentee or by mail. Upperclassmen were more likely to vote in 2018 than freshman or sophomores, according to the study, and female-identifying students were more likely to vote than male-identifying students.

Howard noted that students should be aware that they need to re-register each time their residence hall or building changes, even if their residence remains on campus. “If it’s convenient and easy, you’ll vote; that’s why they make it so difficult,” she said, citing this snag as an example of a means of student voter suppression by lawmakers. “And this year, it’s so crucial,” Howard said.

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