Whose Rules: Getting Out the Vote at the University of Georgia

September 15, 2016

In the 2012 election, millennials comprised 19 percent of the national electorate and had the lowest voter turnout rate (46 percent) of any age group. This trend was reflected on college campuses across the country, including the University of Georgia. According to a study conducted by Tufts, only 45 percent of the UGA student body voted in the 2012 presidential election, equivalent to fewer than three in five of those who were registered. Of these students, 60 percent voted by absentee ballot rather than standing in poll lines on Election Day.

I believe this year is different. Nationally, young people will comprise over 31 percent of eligible voters, and many young adults will be participating in their third election cycle. And our reasons for voting will be different from elections past, as we face significant social, economic, and environmental issues that previous generations did not grapple with at our age. We can’t remember a Congress that wasn’t “gridlocked.” We are amassing student loan debt as tuition costs rise and youth wages plateau. Every few weeks, we read headlines reporting that the previous month was the “hottest month on global record.” We have witnessed our colleges become “campus carry” battlegrounds. I overhear conversations on sexual and gender roles and how to solve a humanitarian and refugee crisis while standing in line to order at a campus coffee shop.

At UGA, we are working to make these issues heard, to let our peers know that our voices matter. Roosevelt @ UGA is working with our Student Government Association and over 40 other student groups, including Young Democrats, College Republicans, and Georgia Political Review to maximize student voter turnout and participation. We have launched a cross-campus, nonpartisan campaign called “UGAvotes,” and our goal is to deconstruct institutional barriers to youth voting, i.e., voter suppression, inaccessible polling locations, fragmented voting guidelines and absentee instructions, etc.

After coordinating with campus administration, we lobbied the Athens Board of Elections to approve a first-ever two-day, in-person early voting location on UGA’s campus. Early voting on campus will allow students, faculty and staff, and community members to incorporate voting seamlessly into their daily routines and significantly shorten poll lines on Election Day.

But in order to participate, students must actually be registered to vote. UGAvotes’ efforts leading up to the October registration deadline consist of large-scale voter registration and education, primarily through social and online media. Through a partnership with Global Mobile Solutions’ “2vote” initiative, UGA will be the first university in the country to utilize its own mobile voter registration platform. Students will be able to use smartphones to jumpstart the online registration process with a simple text.

This year is a year of firsts, a year of action. Here at UGA, we are leading a national effort to make student voices and youth issues heard.