A new group is working to increase the number of student voters at Northern Arizona University to meet the previous national average in time for the November election.
The NAU Votes Coalition, a campuswide initiative comprised of students, faculty, employees and outside advocacy groups, is aiming to raise NAU’s voter registration to 80% — up from 65.7% in 2016, when the last presidential election was held.
These stats come from Tufts University’s National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE), which reported about a 75% registration rate and 50% voting rate among all U.S. institutions in 2016. The NAU voting rate at the time was 42%, with students participating primarily in early and absentee voting. In addition to increasing registration, the coalition hopes to increase NAU’s student voting rate by 10% this year to exceed the 2016 national average.
“We really believe that students should be participating, so we wanted to aim high and see what we could do,” said Professor Leah Mundell, who coordinates NAU’s Civic Engagement Minor and the coalition. “There can definitely be barriers to registering to vote, but it does not have to be hard and we really want to demonstrate to students that this is something you do as part of coming to college, as part of being an adult. Regardless of party, regardless of affiliation, regardless of how involved you’ve been politically in the past, this is just the baseline for civic participation.”
The coalition was formed in the spring as part of the All In Democracy Challenge, a national effort to increase democratic participation on college campuses, and is also working with the Arizona Students’ Association. On-campus participants include members of the Civic Engagement Minor, who are leading the effort, as well as the Office of the Dean of Students, the Associated Students of Northern Arizona (ASNAU) and various other student organizations.
Through efforts made by the Dean of Students’ Office, NAU has placed alerts to register to vote on various platforms used by students, including its new NAUgo app and the Lumberjack Online University Information Environment (LOUIE).
Arizona Public Interest Research Group reported in late August that 385 students from NAU had registered so far through ArizonaStudentVote.org, where NAU students are directed to register. At the time, it was the most registrations of any of the research group’s chapters nationwide.
As of last week, Mundell said more than 500 students have now registered through the NAUgo app alone.
Anthropology student Nyelah Mitchell, president of the Civic Engagement Club, said though it is unlike hosting registration tables, this new virtual approach in the time of COVID-19 has its benefits.
“Anywhere a student has to sign in, they have an alert to register to vote if they haven’t already, which I think is a little easier. I hate getting phone calls and people knocking on my door. I’ve always hated that. If anything, it’s a lot easier to send a link. It’s in your face, but at the same time it’s not in your face and you don’t have that awkward interaction where they look at you and keep walking,” Mitchell said.
Coalition members are encouraging students to register to vote in Flagstaff because of the difference they can make locally.
“I hate to say it, but your vote matters more here in Flagstaff than it does in California or some other state. There are more races that are going to be close that students’ votes are going to have an impact on,” said Kyle Nitschke, organizing director of the Arizona Students’ Association, referring to races like LD6, CD1 and the Flagstaff City Council. “[Students] are part of our community, they’re going to be living here for the next four years or so. … We want these students involved in the community because we believe they can make decisions that are going to make their lives easier or harder here in Flagstaff.”
The coalition plans to hold numerous events in September and October to promote voter registration, participation and education, including various activities on Constitution Day (Sept. 17) and National Voter Registration Day (Sept. 22), plus a campus debate with state candidates on Oct. 1 and “Know Your Ballot Night” on Oct. 8. Events are been held virtually to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“In college, you’re learning a lot about yourself: how to be independent, who you are and what you believe. So don’t vote for someone just because your parents are voting for that person,” Mitchell advised her fellow student voters. “But look at these candidates and think, what do I believe and will they represent it?”
The NAU Votes Coalition will soon be launching a website with information on how to register to vote and more details on upcoming election-related events on campus. The voter registration deadline in Arizona is Oct. 5.
Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at email@example.com or by phone at (928) 556-2253.
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