Back in the day — say, 2012 — voter registration drives at the University of Minnesota consisted mainly of some dedicated students sitting at tables or making stops at dorms around campus.
But this year, a change of strategy to an online registration system advertised on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and online student information hubs has prompted a surge in interest from students, who have registered at higher rates than at any other school in the Big Ten Conference.
All 14 universities in the conference are participating this year in the Vote B1G campaign, which uses a nonprofit group’s online voter registration software to make signing up students an easier task. By Oct. 19, more than 30,000 students had signed up, including about 9,600 who attend the University of Minnesota. That number dwarfs the count at all of the other schools. The University of Maryland, the second-highest-ranking institution, had about half of Minnesota’s total.
Will Dammann, the government and legislative affairs director for Minnesota’s undergraduate student organization, said the numbers are particularly striking because many young voters have been turned off by this year’s election. He said promoters of the voter registration effort appealed to students to think about politics closer to home, even if they were dissatisfied with the candidates at the top of the ticket.
“We focused on local elections and on voting in your home district, using your voice,” he said.
Student-government leaders launched the campaign not long after the academic year began in September. They primarily used their own organization’s budget to set up their efforts, which included signing up with the nonprofit group TurboVote.
That organization allows students to get information about registering to vote online, when possible, and will mail students the relevant forms with a stamped envelope if they need to send paperwork by mail.
Dammann and his colleagues then worked with the university to get the OK to post links to the TurboVote site through campus e-mails, tweets and messages on the university’s online academic information system. “It was about getting it in as many locations as possible,” he said.
Plus, there was the added bonus of some competition. With all of the Big Ten universities on board, students could sign up to help best their rivals at other schools. Dammann said he suspects Minnesota fared better than many because its student government groups already had a good relationship with university officials and quickly got their OK to put the campaign online.
J.D. Burton, special assistant to the university’s president for government and community relations, said he’s glad to see more students getting involved. “The success of the university at the state Legislature or in Congress is really dependent on who is making those decisions,” he said. “It’s really great that the students have seen that they can have a role in deciding those elections — and the best way to do that is to vote.”