Elon Votes! is a student-led, nonpartisan initiative on campus aimed to engage students in civic and political participation. The initiative started in 2014 and is currently the exclusive voter registration organization on campus. It came to fruition after the 2012 election in response to an influx of off-campus partisan groups that only registered students from certain parties or states.
The organization serves as a resource for all of students’ voting needs. Lead voting ambassador and junior Sophie Gerth described it as a “one-stop-shop” for students. Their website provides detailed information on different states’ deadlines as well as resources for voter registration, absentee ballots, becoming a poll worker and FAQs. Students can register and sign up for deadline reminders through TurboVote, which is partnered with the organization.
As of Sept. 30, 1,570 students registered through TurboVote. The deadline to register and update voter information in North Carolina was last Friday, Oct. 9.
Junior Cate Podell is one of the leaders of the Elon Votes! team. As the director for civic engagement at Elon Volunteers!, she works closely with Gerth and coordinators Andrea Sheetz and Trevor Molin. The leadership team organizes debate watch parties, creates voter registration initiatives and regularly staffs the Elon Votes! office to answer student’s questions.
Podell stressed the importance of the organization’s nonpartisan stance.
“We are always a resource, no matter who you’re voting for,” said Podell. “We just care that you vote and we wanna help you do it.”
The Elon Votes! office is in Moseley 105F and staffed from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Students can stop by for help with registration and requesting absentee ballots and for answers on any voting or civic engagement questions. The office also offers free envelopes and stamps.
Across the board, Podell said students should vote as early as possible this year whether it be in-person in North Carolina from Oct. 15 to 31 or by mail. With the increase in mail-in ballots this year, Podell advised students who are voting by mail to fill out their ballot and send it back the day that they receive it. Those who are voting early in-person should look up the hours and location of their nearest polling site.
In addition to their resources, Elon Votes! is known for their nonpartisan events. Typically, they host debate, election and political watch parties in downstairs Moseley. But with COVID-19 restrictions in place, the watch parties look different this year. Students are encouraged to host their own watch parties in accordance with physical distancing guidelines and register them with Elon Votes! to get a goodie bag or free mask. Podell said at least 244 students held their own watch parties for the presidential and vice presidential debate.
With the transition back to Level 1, Elon Votes! plans to host more RSVP-only watch parties in downstairs Moseley, in addition to the remote ones. If restrictions allow, Elon Votes! is planning to host election night coverage in the Great Hall in Global Commons.
According to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, Elon University had a voting rate — the percentage of registered voters who cast their ballot in that election — of 43.6% in the 2016 election. This is 9.8%lower than the national average. In 2018, out of the 75.9% of students registered, only 38.7% voted in the election. However, from 2014 to 2018, the voting rate increased by 18.6%.
As the election nears, the organization hopes to see greater voter turnout than previous years. Their goal? To have at least a 50% voting rate among students.
There’s been a steady increase in voting rate at Elon and the program is growing with it. Elon Votes! introduced 27 new voting ambassadors this year, a big jump from the three-person team of previous years. Voting ambassadors help plan civic engagement efforts as well as attend meetings to discuss relevant topics and goals of the program.
Gerth said the position is not specific to any major. Elections impact everyone, so it is important to have all voices planning these voting initiatives on campus. It is a semester-long commitment, meaning students will be able to apply for the spring in the near future. The application will be promoted on the Elon Votes! Instagram.
If students are looking for another way to get involved with the election in the short term, many counties are looking for election workers. Retirees and older members of the community often volunteer, but the pandemic will prevent many from helping this year. Duties of election workers may include staffing polling places, checking in voters, setting up and closing the voting enclosure, and assisting voters. More information is available on elon.edu/vote.
Once the election season dies down, Gerth said she hopes to continue the momentum the organization has gained. In conjunction with the growing student coalition, the Elon Votes! leadership team has met with President Connie Book and Vice President for Student Life Jon Dooley to discuss goals of the program. In both the short and long term, Gerth hopes to see a growth in voter registration and turnout numbers, as well as the culture around civic engagement. The next steps are to focus on the local government in Alamance County.
Questions? Go to elon.edu/vote, direct message @elonvotes on Instagram, email email@example.com, or visit their offices in downstairs Moseley 105F or upstairs Moseley 230 in the Kernodle Center, Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.