Preparation

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PREPARATION

If we really want to maximize student voting participation, the work needs to happen way in advance. We can certainly increase turnout by doing a lot of things in the month or two before the election, but the evidence shows that student voting participation is increased the most by integrating voter registration and information into campus systems and creating campus climates in which discussion of public questions saturates all aspects of students’ lives.

Changing systems and changing climates takes time, and preparation is essential in order to achieve maximum effectiveness and impact. The following best practices will help you prepare for voting efforts on campus and in the community.

Summary

  • Understand civic power and build capacity on campus.
  • Sign up for NSLVE to learn the campus’ student registration, voting rates, and campus climate for electoral engagement.
  • Identify and remove barriers to community college student voting.
  • Convert challenges to community college student voting into opportunities
  • Utilize the SLSV Coalition’s checklist tailored for community colleges as a guide when planning for electoral engagement on campus.

In his book, You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen, Eric Liu, the founder and CEO of Citizen University, argues that literacy in power is essential to making democracy work. Most people would agree that civic empowerment is essential to a healthy democracy.  In order to effectively prepare for voter engagement, basic knowledge of power is recommended. How do people learn to use their power to make change?

The following animated video is a good summation of power and how power impacts our democracy.

What Is Power?

  • Definition: the ability to make others do what you would want them to do
  • Civic power: macro-scale exercise of power to influence community –distinguished from other kinds, like interpersonal or intraorganizational
  • What forms civic power takes – state action, wealth, votes, crowds, ideas, information, culture, social norms, celebrity/charisma
  • Why people avoid this topic
  • Why avoiding it assures you will be acted upon rather than acting
  • The great challenge in political and civic life today is that knowledge of power is monopolized – we need to re-democratize democracy

Power in Civic Life

  • Who has it: the demographics of economic, political and social power
  • Why that is: how power perpetuates itself
  • Who is using power for and against your interests/beliefs right now?
  • How people exercise civic power: persuasion, compulsion, framing
  • How those without civic power attain it: persuasion, compulsion, framing

Becoming Literate in Power: Values, Systems, Skills

  • Values: norms and ethical purposes. The essence of any winning narrative.
  • Systems: representative government, the market, family, civil society, the media and popular culture, the natural environment. See systems as systems.
  • Understand the behavior of these systems and how to activate them.
  • Skills: how to organize, mobilize, argue, negotiate, strategize, tell story.
  • Each dimension has certain laws and patterns to master
  • Fluency in these three dimensions = being able to read and write power

In the following video, Eric Liu delivers a lecture at Columbia University, entitled: “Teaching Civic Power,” and unpacks his equation: Power + Character = Citizenship

Example Exercise or Assignment for the Classroom

Write a narrative from your community’s future. It can be dated one or five or ten years out. Write it as a case study that looks back at how your cause, the change you were looking for in your community, succeeded. Describe the values and sense of moral purpose you activated in others. Recount how you engaged the various systems of government and marketplace and community institutions and media. Catalog the skills that you had to develop – advocating, negotiating, navigating – to change the frame of the possible and to overcome resistance.  

For more information, visit: https://www.citizenuniversity.us/

What is NSLVE:

The National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) offers colleges and universities an opportunity to learn their student registration and voting rates and, for interested campuses, a closer examination of their campus climate for political learning and engagement and correlations between specific student learning experiences and voting.

Value of NSLVE:

IDHE Reports address pressing issues in democracy and in higher education. The reports offer valuable insights for leaders and educators who are committed to improving colleges students’ political learning and engagement.  

Institutions that participate in NSLVE receive detailed reports with their campus data. These reports represent an opportunity for institutions to reflect and act on the institutional factors and campus climates that can affect student voting rates and political engagement more broadly.

Additionally, this report, based on surveys and conversations with multiple institutions, can suggest next steps like convening dialogues, creating task forces, sharing with students, engaging faculty, and more.  Click HERE for an example report of a 2-year institution. 

What is NSLVE?

The National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) offers colleges and universities an opportunity to learn their student registration and voting rates and, for interested campuses, a closer examination of their campus climate for political learning and engagement and correlations between specific student learning experiences and voting.

Value of NSLVE:

IDHE Reports address pressing issues in democracy and in higher education. The reports offer valuable insights for leaders and educators who are committed to improving college students’ political learning and engagement.

Institutions that participate in NSLVE receive detailed reports with their campus data. These reports represent an opportunity for institutions to reflect and act on the institutional factors and campus climates that can affect student voting rates and political engagement more broadly.

Additionally, this report, based on surveys and conversations with multiple institutions, can suggest next steps like convening dialogues, creating task forces, sharing with students, engaging faculty, and more.  Click here for an example report of a 2-year institution.

5 Top Reasons to Sign-Up for NSLVE:

  • It’s FREE.
  • It’s easy – not a survey, no data collection – all you need to do is get the form signed.
  • It’s completely protective of student privacy. They work with de-identified student records only.
  • Over 1,000 campuses nationwide participate including over 290 community colleges (and it’s growing).
  • Show the impact of your work!

For more information, visit the NSLVE webpage:  https://idhe.tufts.edu/nslve

On community college campuses, impactful electoral engagement require being inclusive and infusing equity into efforts.  In addition to preparing for including those not eligible to vote such as those previously incarcerated/on parole, student who are not yet 18 and dual enrolled students, and those not naturalized or undocumented students.  Additionally, barriers must be removed to make way for full participation.

From Election Imperatives:

Remove barriers to student voting.

Link voter registration to existing structures on campus, including orientation programming, registering for classes, and obtaining student IDs. Work with local officials to facilitate student voting processes. Establish an on-campus polling location. Seek legal support if students face barriers to voting due to restrictive voter identification laws or cumbersome residency requirements.

 

Barriers to Student Voting

During legislative sessions, many state legislatures enact, and consider reforms that can affect the ability of students to register and vote.  Some efforts target student voters directly, but most make broader changes that could nonetheless fall hard on student voters. Campus administrators and student leaders should contact local elections officials to check for updates to rules and policies in the following areas.  Being mindful of these barriers locals can inform planning to combat and/or counteract them.

According to Campus Vote Project, barriers to student voting include:

  • Direct Limitations on Student Voting
  • Strict Voter ID Requirements
  • Limiting Third-Party Voter Registration Opportunities
  • Cutting Early Voting Options
  • Eliminating Same-day or Election Day Registration

Seven Key Ways to Act

Another great resource comes from Campus Election Engagement Project and their master road map which provides seven ways that help students navigate through the ever-changing barriers to voting.  Vist https://campuselect.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/7-Key-Ways-to-Engage-Your-Campus.pdf for the full resource.

Other Resources:

Understanding the Challenges

Taking an asset approach to voter engagement is essential for community college efforts.  Understanding the challenges is one step but converting them to opportunities must be the next step for effective and impactful engagement.

Top Six Challenges to Community College Student Voting:

  1. More time in the local community than on the college campus
  2. How to ensure non-partisan efforts? (Budgets are dependant on it)
  3. What about those on a community college campus who cannot vote?
  4. Combating historical and institutional marginalization of students and students of color
  5. No time to vote- in class or at work
  6. Process is mystifying- educational opportunity to bring clarity to voting and make it local.

The following are reflections from engaged community college professionals on the unique challenges to community college voter engagement:

“At least two-thirds of our students work at least part-time & many have family responsibilities. As this is not a residential learning environment, it is difficult to get attendance at events outside of regular school hours. This dynamic, in fact, caused us to shelve ideas for debate watching parties as the debates all started at 8pm, a time when few students are willing to come back to campus.”

Dr. David Price, Santa Fe College, FL

“I believe the biggest challenge is student apathy and misunderstanding. This year through the feedback survey process I learned that students do not see the connection between the common good, the needs of the community, and our political leadership. In part, this is fueled by a disassociation that has grown stronger as politics in Washington grow more polarizing – with campaigns built on negative ads and fake news.”

-Dr. Diane McMahon, Allegany College of Maryland, MD

“Our campus has a large number of international students and students that aren’t citizens. We did not want to exclude them from any events. It was a challenge to come up with meaningful experiences for them as well.”

-Tara Karaim, Johnson County Community College, KS

“Another challenge is the mission of the community college. Because they are not research institutions, community colleges have more responsibility to the market and satisfying regional workforce demands when compared to four-year institutions. In some states, funding is even linked to programs that prepare students for careers in the local workforce. This can place a strain on institutional priorities, and civic engagement and education, although considered very important, is not always linked to market-oriented efforts.”

-Dr. Joseph Scanlon, Monroe Community College, NY

 

Explore the Opportunities

In taking into account the unique challenges with an asset lens requires action toward converting challenges into opportunities for maximum impact.

Top Six Opportunities in Community College Electoral Engagement:

  1. More opportunity for local engagement- family, neighbors
  2. More opportunity for local candidate visits and engagement
  3. More opportunity for year-round engagement and not every four years- voting habit and culture on campus- constant reminders of its importance and relevance to its direct impact.
  4. Engaging those who can’t vote using inclusive practices and opportunities extending and advancing democracy.
  5. Opportunity do stop-in announcements- events, registration, inspiration

The following are reflections from engaged community college professionals on the unique opportunities of community college voter engagement:

“Community colleges tend to serve populations counted as the most underprivileged and under-represented in American politics today. As such, we have amazing potential to reduce the disparities in political voice and participation. We reach young adults during their formative years and have a unique opportunity to provide interventions that would set otherwise apolitical students on a life trajectory toward being engaged in their political system. I cannot think of another institution with this kind of potential to strengthen democracy!”

-Dr. Lisa Lawrason, Delta College, MI

“The 2008 election saw record-breaking turnout for young people in a presidential election, but subsequent elections saw a decline in those numbers. How can we sustain youth political participation from election to election? Getting individuals to the polls, especially youth, is a sign that democratic government works. Voting can also have the goal of social change. After voting, the individual might feel more connected to the political system. This feeling can lead to more involvement, such as contacting officials, participating in rallies, or running for local office. We see all of these goals as interrelated and necessary for a comprehensive program on voting and political participation towards a thriving democracy.  Because of KCC’s student body composition (63% non-white and many of them receiving state and federal financial aid), this is a segment of the population that we seek to empower and engage in the political process so that it can be more reflective of their needs and challenges.”

-Helen-Margaret Nasser, CUNY Kingsborough Community College, NY

“We are the community. We are Democracy’s colleges. The diversity of our campuses and the new Americans in our midst make us the best place to learn and practice democracy.”

-David Mcmahon, Kirkwood Community College, IA

“Community colleges have the greatest opportunity to address the ‘civic opportunity gap’ by working to get all students interested in political engagement. This can happen by creating opportunities to recognize their passions, as well as providing ways for them to make connections in curricular and co-curricular settings with these passions. Once students make the connection between the personal and the political, they will realize the importance of electoral engagement. And, with time, they will use the opportunity to “get involved” as a way to bring about change through activism and advocacy.”

-Dr. Patty Robinson, College of the Canyons, CA

The SLSV Coalition is a diverse group of local, state, and national organizations dedicated to increasing student voter participation and civic engagement.  As a partner in this coalition, Campus Compact recommends the use of the SLSV Checklist

The SLSV Checklist is an easy, four-step process to integrate democratic engagement into campus culture:

  1. LEAD: Ensure a person is appointed by a respected campus leader to lead your student democratic engagement programs.
  2. ENGAGE: Convene a meeting of relevant administrators from student affairs, academics affairs, and government relations, as well as faculty and student leadership to discuss a campus-wide effort to increase civic learning and democratic participation.
  3. ASSESS: Measure your campus voting rate.
  4. PLAN: Draft and submit a written action plan for increasing your campus-wide democratic engagement that will be evaluated post-election.

Click on the link below for our version of the Checklist adapted for community colleges.

Additional Recommended Tools for Preparation

Recommended tools to aid in preparation for electoral engagement:

Strengthening American Democracy
This improved and expanded guide is designed to help faculty, staff, and students write strong campus action plans to increase nonpartisan civic learning, political engagement, and voter participation among college students. It provides a framework for developing and documenting institutional goals and strategies. It is not meant to be prescriptive and should be adapted to your institutional context.  For the accompanying rubric is designed to help assess campus democratic engagement action plans to identify potential areas for improvement and build on existing strengths.

Votes & Ballots
Democracy Works’ Votes & Ballots! is a game of team-wide strategy that takes the guesswork out of on-campus democratic engagement.  Players are tasked with creating a comprehensive action plan while keeping in mind their institution’s historical voting rates, their resources, and the unique challenges faced by student voters.

Higher Education’s Role in Enacting a Thriving Democracy
AASCU’s ADP, NASPA LEAD Inititiave, and TDC’s Higher Education’s Role in Enacting a Thriving Democracy is collection of essays that reflect the collaborative work and thoughts of participants in three national higher education networks focused on civic learning and democratic engagement.  They worked with colleagues to envision the thriving democracy toward which the work is directed, aligning learning outcomes, pedagogies, and strategies with this vision.