Student groups make efforts to increase voter turnout in the upcoming election

Aug. 31, 2020, 9:05 p.m.

Founded in 2018 in response to poor voter turnout among students in the 2016 presidential election, StanfordVotes aims to improve both voter registration and voter turnout in the Stanford community.

“A main focus [of StanfordVotes] is developing a culture of voting and civic engagement across campus, and that’s something we’re still working hard on,” said Chase Small ’22, former director of StanfordVotes. “We work with community leaders across campus to get their students registered and voting and make it feel like, as a Stanford student, that’s just something you do.”

Small and Alex Chau ’22 co-directed StanfordVotes during the 2019-20 school year. During that time, the organization encouraged the University to place an enrollment hold on Axess which required students to check a box saying that they “acknowledge the recommendation of civic engagement” and provided students with information on how to register to vote, update their voter registration and apply for a mail-in ballot.

“Essentially, … it put a chokepoint that all students on campus had to pass through at some point in order to choose classes,” Small said.

StanfordVotes also works to encourage students to go to the polls on Election Day, or mail their absentee ballot on time.

“Last year we had a polling place on campus, and we worked with the Haas Center to get students to go to that,” said Chau. “We had a ‘Party at the Post Office’ for the last two years where people could come to bring their absentee ballot. We provided stamps and envelopes, and we had a printer if people needed to print an absentee ballot, then send it off.”

Sean Casey ’23 and Liana Keesing ’23 are the new co-directors of StanfordVotes for the 2020-21 school year, and they will continue to expand the organization’s presence on campus within the confines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic does change things a little bit,” Casey said. “But I honestly think it’s an incredible opportunity to leverage the administration more, and to figure out how StanfordVotes can move into a digital space, a space that’s more permanent than getting a bunch of people to table on White Plaza.”

Casey and Keesing have already begun to build out StanfordVotes’s online presence — they created an Instagram account for the organization and are looking to update their website. “Finding all of these ways to connect with people, no matter where they are geographically, is really important to us,” said Casey.

StanfordVotes is not the only student group using digital organizing to increase voter turnout. Cardinal for Biden, a student organization working to elect Joe Biden as president, is also taking steps to encourage students to vote.

“In every email that I send, I send out the [registration link],” said Chloe Stoddard ’21, the president of Cardinal for Biden. “We push that pretty hard on our social media as well, to remind students to vote. A huge reason why Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 was that people in our age group weren’t registered to vote, and didn’t turn out.”

To Stoddard, a key concern in the upcoming election is voter suppression.

“Not only are we worried about getting people out to vote, but about making sure that their vote is actually counted,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is let people know when the registration deadlines are and also to let them know that there’s basically this two-week rule of when you’re supposed to get your ballot sent in, so that it arrives on the correct date.”

Although the circumstances of the pandemic will make organizing for the 2020 election difficult for both politically affiliated and nonpartisan organizations, the current and former directors of StanfordVotes are optimistic about the opportunity to grow their online presence.

“Our thinking at this point is that if we really focus on the virtual element of this … then we’ll be better set for all the students, both on and off campus in the fall, and in elections moving forward,” Small said. “We’re really excited to use this fall as an opportunity to really develop and think through our best practices for how to create effective online campaigns.”

Both Small and Casey noted the importance of making high voter turnout part of Stanford’s culture. Casey said, “We want to make sure that, especially with the crazy way the election is going to function this year, everyone knows how to vote, feels that they are able to vote, and that they are encouraged to, because they understand that their vote does matter.” 

Contact Ariela Lopez at arielarlopez ‘at’

Ariela Lopez is a high schooler writing as part of the Stanford Daily Summer Journalism Workshop.

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