There is a lot more to democratic participation than voting.  In a healthy democracy, individuals work together to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities that face their community.  They deliberate on matters of importance. They organize to inform others about important issues. They communicate their views to elected officials. They act not just on Election Day but all year round. They focus not just on the outcomes of elections but on the outcomes of policy-making processes, and they know how they can play a role in shaping those outcomes.  If we want to engage students in that thoroughgoing vision of democratic participation, there is no need to wait around for any election cycle–and there is plenty of work to do.

A key to engaging the election on community college campuses is through building a well-informed citizenry and building a climate on campus to develop the political knowledge, skills, and motivation necessary for community college students to participate in our democracy.

Educators engage students in democracy.  Our work is to help you do that successfully and effectively.  To that end, we have collected a range of resources aimed at developing in students the knowledge, skills, and motivations for thoughtful and effective participation in our democratic republic.  We also have recommended ways to educate community college students for the elections and for our democracy.


  • Develop informed voters through candidate and issue forums
  • Remove the mystery of voting for community college students
  • Employ National Issues Forums to talk politics on campus and in the community
  • Increase and improve classroom issue discussions across disciplines

From Election Imperatives:

Develop informed voters.

Offer courses, teach-ins, short modules in classes, and stand-alone opportunities to teach the history and current state of voting —including rules regarding domicile—in the United States. Purchase or borrow voting machines and create sample ballots and set up opportunities for students to learn the process. Use election issues to teach fact-checking and online media literacy.


Hosting Candidate and Issue Forums:

Candidate forums are events held on your college campus wherein candidates for a particular electoral race are brought together to discuss or debate issues of concern to the community and to educate and court potential voters.

Election-issue forums are typically designed to address a topic of interest to the community and of importance in an upcoming election. Presenters at election-issue forums can be college students, faculty, staff, community members, or outside experts.

Five Strategies for Successful Forums

  1. Hold forums at multiple times throughout the year.  Before and after elections, keep engaging students with candidates, elected officials, and issues regularly for increased engagement.
  2. Involve students at every stage.  Engage students as partners and organizers, not just recipients or beneficiaries.
  3. Make forums accessible. Hold in different locations on campus, locations in the community (such as libraries, community centers, churches).  Additionally, hold forums during the day as well as evening, and even during class times to increase accessibility for community college students.
  4. Offer credit and/or extra credit.  Ask faculty to offer class credit or extra credit for attending and reflecting on the experience.  Develop assignments around the forums that involve critical thinking and analysis.
  5. Promote multiple ways of engagement in the forum.  Record forums to accommodate community college students and allow viewing at their convenience.  Additionally, partner with local TV and radio stations to broadcast the forum. Also, create a live Twitter feed and use social media to have interactive discussions and dialogues.

Recommended Resource:

The wide range of campus stakeholders enabled Engaging the Election participants the ability to reach more students and link with community-based organizations.  This level of outreach may not have been feasible if the efforts were tied to merely one group.  Additionally, printed material displayed throughout campus, rather than a large digital presence, provided surprisingly strong results and increased awareness of candidates and issues.”

-J. Gabe Estill, Wright College, IL

One barrier to student voting is that many students are new to voting and/or not aware of the process for various reasons.

“There are many misperceptions and without deep dialogue and critical thinking focusing on democratic education, I do not see this issue resolving. Just as students need driver education classes to learn how to drive – I believe they also need democratic learning and engagement classes to learn how to support and operate our democracy. It is something that is not taught and needs to be more deeply embedded in learning processes.”

-Dr. Diana McMahon, Allegany College of Maryland

Be Sure to Engage and Educate students on:

  • The Ballot- what to expect on the ballot before they get to the polls.
  • Polling locations- how to find out what their polling location is.
  • What to expect- dialogue about experiences of what to expect when they do go to cast their vote to remove some of the anxiety of the unknown.

Four Ways to Demystify Voting

  1. Mock vote experience- host a voting simulation on campus.
  2. Partnering with non-profit issue-based organizations to engage students or table- Net Impact, Southern Poverty Law Center, League of Women Voters
  3. Hosting Democracy Days Event on Campus- poster session- candidates, issues, ballot initiatives
  4. Leveraging Constitution and Citizenship Day to Promote Voter Education and Engagement.

“Political engagement is a matter of campus climate.” Furthermore, “politically engaged institutions support political conversations across the campus and in the classroom.”  Hosting campus conversations about your NSLVE voting reports is a beginning. Additionally, employing deliberative dialogue techniques like National Issues Forums can voter education and engagement efforts on campus.

From Election Imperatives:

Talk politics across campus.

Use NSLVE data, electoral controversies, policy issues, social conflicts, and campus concerns to increase and improve skills in intergroup and controversial issue discussions, and to reinforce norms of shared responsibility, inclusion, and free expression. Elections, including the NSLVE voting data, provide countless opportunities to engage the entire campus community in well-organized and facilitated discussions. Cultivate a cadre of trained facilitators and structures for supporting campus-wide discussions.

IDHE’s Talking Politics: Guide for Campus Conversations about your Voting Rights provides a roadmap for convening dialogues about your campus climate that is useful in all phases of electoral engagement.

For more resources, visit

Deliberative Dialogues
Deliberative dialogues are structured conversations that offer a way to talk about important issues and wrestle with associated hard choices and differing viewpoints. Deliberative Dialogues are premised upon the recognition of strengths in other peoples’ positions, showing concern for others, temporarily suspending one’s own beliefs, searching for a common understanding, and relying on the participants’ collective knowledge and experiences to arrive at better solutions.

Deliberative dialogues can be used as a civic tool to respond to electoral issues nationally as well as locally.  Although faculty facilitate dialogues at some institutions, many believe that the training and use of student facilitators is central to deliberative dialogues as builds civic skills.  Training is essential and training materials are available in the resources section.

Words of Advice for Conducting Deliberative Dialogue Forums:

  1. Develop Informed Voters through Candidate and Issue Forums
  2. Remove the Mystery of Voting for Community College Students
  3. Employ National Issues Forums to Talk Politics on Campus and Community
  4. Increase and Improve Classroom Issue Discussions Across Discipline

Examples of NIF Issue Guides most used in Electoral Engagement:

Training Resources and Guides:


“Students do care. A large number of students have newly become legal adults. They are eager to participate in civically engaged projects but are unsure and hesitant. When talking to students especially newly graduated high schoolers they expressed a desire to vote and perhaps had already registered but knew little else about the process such as who were the candidates and what were the issues. Initially this made them hesitate to commit to voting; however, after attending the different education events we put on they felt like they either could or knew where to research in order make an informed decision. We were also able to provide students with voter educational information such as where to find their polling place, how to find out who the candidates were, and what propositions were on the ballot. Knowledge empowered students to confidently exercise their right to vote.”

-Duane Oakes, Mesa Community College, AZ

From Election Imperatives:

Increase and improve classroom issue discussions across disciplines.

Every discipline has public relevance, and faculty members across academic fields can embed learning about salient political, policy, and controversial issues into a course. Overcome barriers to this kind of teaching by supporting departmental leadership and faculty development efforts.

We recommend offering a faculty workshop before the beginning of the semester or early in the semester using IDHE’s Facilitating Political Discussions in the Community College Classroom.  With a workshop and training faculty before the beginning of the semester or early in the semester as discussions are more than likely to occur and allow faculty and staff to build confidence to engage students (and colleagues) neutrality, civility, and effectively.

Resource: Facilitating Political Discussions in the Community College Classroom

Virtual Dialogue: The Power of Community Colleges in Voter Education

The Engage the Election project presented a series of virtual dialogues on the electoral power of community colleges. This three-part series featured community college practitioners sharing best practices from their institutions, followed by an open dialogue concerning the unique challenges and opportunities in voter registration, education, and turnout specific to community colleges.  In this dialogue, we discussed The Power of Community Colleges in Voter Education. Date: October 11, 2018


Jim Nguyen and Robert Stockwell, Professors of Political Science, De Anza College, CA
Dr. David Price, Professor of History and Political Science, Santa Fe College, FL
Katie Montgomery, Director of Government Relations, Cuyahoga Community College, OH
Michael Burns, National Director, Campus Vote Project

Electoral Education Through State/Local Voting Guides

Students often do not vote because they do not know where candidates stand and are confused about how to find out.  Quite often, they are not sure what information to trust that is readily accessible as most of the information is biased and/or partisan.

Our friends at Campus Vote Project (CVP) and Campus Election Engagement Project (CEEP) have made available non-partisan election guides.   These are particularly useful for community college students as local elections impact them more directly than their residential four-year peers.  Visit their websites for more information:

Additional Resources