RICHMOND, Va. — In preparation for the Congressional Midterm Elections next Tuesday, universities in Richmond are focused on getting their students to vote. Through tabling, events and online resources, the goal over the past weeks has been completing student voter registrations.
Jeff South, a journalism professor at VCU, led a group of honors students in a voter registration drive for the “VCU votes” project ahead of the Oct. 14 registration deadline.
“I work with about a dozen honors students who are taking my Mass Comm 101 class,” said South. “We decided to do a voter registration drive over in the Student Commons. The students reserved a table and for three hours staffed that table and invited other students passing by to register to vote or to change their voter registration from their hometown… to the VCU-Richmond area.”
VCU honors student Julie Rothey helped to run the table set up in VCU’s University Student Commons. She and the other honors students are also tweeting election information using the Twitter account of “VCU votes,” a campaign initiated by one of South’s honors classes in 2012 and used since to promote voting on campus.
“We’re doing a Twitter campaign and online social media to raise awareness about the election, and hopefully when people see that, they’ll register individually,” said Rothey. “The goal is partially to get people to register and also partially just to raise awareness about the election and why people should be interested in voting”
Using the VCU votes Twitter account, the honors students spread their message beyond their voter registration table.
Students who follow “VCU votes” on Twitter ” will receive tweets about what’s happening on campus regarding campaign activity and other inspirational messages reminding them to vote on November 4th,” said South.
LaSella Hall, the coordinator of student activities and Greek life at Virginia Union University, said voter registration was also a priority for VUU students.
“Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, along with our Enrollment Management and Student Affairs office teamed up with a couple local folks in town to have a voter registration here. We had some folks from the mayor’s office, the police department came down … and we also had some of the high schools come down,” said Hall. “It was a huge event.”
The event, held in September, was followed by another school-sponsored event. This time, VUU partnered with the Advancement Project, a national group focused on civil rights and civic engagement.
“The Advancement Project is coming in, doing a panel discussion and talking about the voter ID law that Virginia passed,” Hall said before of the event. “My hope is that the new law will not the deter them .. my hope is that the new law will empower them to get out and vote.”
The discussion, which took place on Oct. 29, was held to educate VUU staff and students about the new ID requirements and was open to the public. Hall said that although students are among the least affected by the new law, it was still important to inform them of the requirements.
“Current students tend to have state IDs, current students tend to be aware of their birth certificates and their social security cards, so I think its a little easier for them,” said Hall.
Students at the University of Richmond also experience voting challenges and confusion, especially when it comes to absentee ballots. Adrienne Piazza, program manager at the University of Richmond’s Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, said many of the University of Richmond’s students come from outside of Virginia.
“One of the biggest challenges we try to help mitigate is what [students] can and can’t do,” said Piazza. “Can they vote in Virginia? Do they need to vote at home? How do they navigate the absentee ballot process? So it’s really just sharing information and being a resource and making sure we’re myth-busting.”
Much of that process takes place online, making it easy for students to find voting and election information.
“We have the Politics and Voting website as a resource on our Web page. We have links on our site about absentee voting. We also do local government outreach,” said Piazza. “We recently launched a student-driven, student-written website called rvagov.com, so that’s a way to involve students in local government, so that they care about the place they live for these four years and hopefully longer.”
VCU Professor South said that efforts to engage students in elections can have a great impact on their turnout rates.
“We’ve seen big increases in turnouts over the previous elections from four years prior” after VCU votes and other campaigns started, said South. “So if you look at 2008 versus 2012, we’ve seen an increase of about 50 percent in the turnout of those four precincts. Certainly those are not all VCU students, but I’d say that a lot of them are, and this shows efforts to engage the VCU community in the election really pay off at the polls.”
Information on where college students should vote is easily accessible on the Rock the Vote website.
This story was reported by the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between WTVR.com and VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture.