In 2017, the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good at the University of San Francisco (USF) launched its USF Votes campaign, with the goal of registering 100 percent of eligible voters on campus. Following the release of data from our NSLVE report in 2016, we wanted to engage students at a university that prides itself on a mission of civic engagement, activism, and social justice. In its first year, USF registered over 1,400 new students to vote, both on TurboVote and through traditional paper forms. This multi-pronged approach was essential in utilizing different strategies to engage various audiences. Using the momentum of appearing on the TurboVote leaderboard, USF Votes intends to Ace the Midterms in 2018 by registering and encouraging all students to vote this November.
Building a coalition
As the Leo T. McCarthy Center took the lead on voter engagement efforts, it was important to the sustainability of the initiative to bring together diverse stakeholders, both internally and externally. Representatives from faculty, staff, student groups, professional councils, and campus life departments were all involved in the planning process. In this way, the initiative encompassed programming, marketing and communications, policy expertise, as well as student life and engagement on campus.
The McCarthy Center played an integral role in facilitating these relationships and leading conversations in organizing expertise for each stakeholder. Recruitment included a call to action to “Change the World from Here” (USF’s motto), plus an emphasis on institutional priority and urgency for the entire campus to be involved. This included many individual phone calls, office visits, and personalized conversations with potential volunteers and ambassadors. This was important in the development, branding, and outreach of the initiative in its inaugural year and reinforcing the mission of the university to increase civic engagement.
Steps taken to learn from experts in the field included partnering with the San Francisco Elections Department, TurboVote, Campus Compact, and the Andrew Goodman Foundation. Each helped us implement best practices on our own campus and offered indelible support, resources, and perspectives on how to engage young voters at USF at the ballot box. These relationships are key to leveraging shared knowledge and thought partnership, inclusive and indicative of the demography of voters on campus and in the greater Bay Area.
The USF Votes initiative launched at New Student Orientation Day in August 2017 with a slew of staff and student volunteers ready to register new first-year students at check-in. You could sense the excitement in the room as volunteers shared with new students and their parents that changing the world from USF includes creating change at the ballot box. From that first successful event, USF Votes showed up at several more around campus throughout the year: National Voter Registration Day and resource fairs, to forums and leadership conferences that celebrated the diverse viewpoints and policy challenges of our country today. The USF Votes team also organized a gubernatorial speaker series with all of the major Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates for a public conversation. Through this series of events prior to the California primary in June 2018, USF Votes branded itself as a nonpartisan campus initiative dedicated to building a voice and platform for all students on campus. With the midterm elections approaching, it was vital to have USF’s TurboVote link featured front, center, and frequently to engage and encourage as many students as possible to register and vote.
Challenges and barriers
Often times, a new initiative does not have the institutional support necessary to be successful. It can be a matter of funding, capacity, or a lack of knowledge of the issue. Therefore, it was crucial the USF Votes team have conversations with the president’s office and administration officials to press upon them the importance of an organization such as this on a diverse campus where young voices are often not present at the ballot box. Additionally, partnering with the university’s marketing team, registrar’s office, and student life department was important in sustaining the initiative and branding it as an institutional priority. In addition to resources and toolkits provided by Campus Compact and other voter advocacy groups, TurboVote provided case studies highlighting the success of campuses that had institutionalized voter registration into existing online processes. Being able to point to these best practices helped us engage different stakeholders and provide proof of concept for strategies that could be easily replicated at USF.
Action planning and promoting the next election
Implementing a useful tool like TurboVote prior to the 2018 midterm elections in November is crucial, both for students and also for the greater surrounding USF community. USF Votes intends to promote TurboVote through the student check-in process administered through the registrar’s office while continuing the conversation with TurboVote’s team about the need to fully embed the tool online and within students’ mobile applications. USF Votes also plans to take advantage of more student engagement opportunities through voter education dialogues and forums on campus, while at the same time encouraging students to register to vote before important deadlines. Lastly, incorporating our TurboVote link into student portals and leveraging points of entry and bottlenecks will be imperative prior to November.
Our goal is for the whole USF campus to recognize that USF Votes provides opportunities to mobilize, share your voice, and make it heard on campus and at the ballot box. 2018 is a pivotal year for us, and young people are at the forefront of change; let’s Ace the Midterms!