The AAUW Action Fund’s It’s My Vote: I Will Be Heard voter education and turnout campaign represents an unprecedented investment in making women’s voices heard in the 2012 election. Follow us on Twitter and on Tumblr for the latest updates, and check out our biweekly Campaign Update for news, resources, and ideas.
I have run voter registration drives at universities before, and I’ve always been disappointed with the outcomes. I felt like there was a lot of contact and visibility, but few people were interested in stopping to fill out forms. So I wanted to target students in a place where they would be more likely to listen to the message and to engage in the process — in their classrooms. I started making connections with faculty to get permission to attend and speak in their classes.
Working at a university afforded me the opportunity to speak directly with faculty and staff because I have a name they already recognize. I made it clear to them that I was speaking as a campaign organizer for a nonpartisan group — AAUW. I asked them if I could come into their classroom to talk about voting, encourage their students to register to vote and fill out voter pledges and reminder postcards, and recruit them to volunteer with the It’s My Vote: I Will Be Heard campaign. Even though my existing relationships helped me get my foot in the door, this strategy is completely feasible for anyone who works with college faculty and administrators, as many AAUW branches do so well.
A typical class visit goes like this: I come into the classroom with It’s My Vote pledge postcards, voter registration forms for the state of West Virginia, and an impassioned plea for students to vote on November 6. I ask them to name what day of the week Election Day falls on and what they think they will be doing that day. Why? Some institutions do not give the day off to vote, and students may already have work or class scheduled. Then we discuss early voting and absentee voting. I ask who is registered and plans to vote in West Virginia. I ask them to fill out It’s My Votevoter pledge postcards, which AAUW will send to them a few weeks before the election as a reminder to vote. I run down the voter eligibility requirements in West Virginia and ask them if there is anyone who would like to register. I provide students with voter registration forms and instructions in addition to the pledge postcards.
I also ask who is not planning on voting and why. Most students who raise their hands say things like “my vote doesn’t count” or “I don’t like anyone who’s running.” In response to this, I seek feedback from other students. I ask those who say they are voting to tell me why. One woman said, “I go to the polls every single election because someone died for my right to cast a vote.” Other students have said, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.”
To illustrate to students why voting is particularly important for them, I ask how many are currently receiving Pell Grants. I tell them that Pell Grants are federal funds, which means that the amount available is determined by their elected officials. I also tell the students that if they rely on those funds, they need to let their legislators know. Then I give them a scenario to get them thinking about civic engagement and how it doesn’t end once we’ve cast a ballot. I take the first row of students and say, “Let’s pretend that this room has elected me as the leader, and this first row regularly sends me e-mails regarding what they think I should do as their representative. The first row has decided that the class should be represented by a green flag. The other rows in the room disagree with this when they hear that it will become law, but all they do is complain to each other on Facebook or in the halls. They never let me, your elected representative, know how they feel, so I work diligently to get that resolution about the green flag passed.” Slowly but surely, the students start nodding their heads — I can tell they are thinking about the importance of voting on November 6 and speaking up about the issues they care about on November 7 and beyond.
It is incredibly energizing to be in a room full of students. These experiences have renewed me during my get-out-the-vote efforts. In every class I have visited, I have encountered challenges and encouragement that have helped me focus my energies and expand my knowledge. I am very thankful for the professors who have allowed me access to their classrooms. I look forward to having many students from these classes as volunteers during National Voter Registration Week efforts.
This post was written by It’s My Vote West Virginia campaign organizer Amanda Barber. Barber is an AAUW member who served on the 2006–07 National Student Advisory Council. To join West Virginia’s It’s My Vote effort, e-mail VoterEd@aauw.org.