Ohio University has officially been named a “voter friendly campus” following efforts to increase student voter participation in the 2020 presidential election. The designation, which was awarded to OU and just over 230 other campuses nationwide, will stay in effect until January 2023.
The Campus Vote Project, an initiative led by the Fair Elections Center, and the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, or NASPA, are responsible for the designations. The organizations work together to review applications submitted by universities nationwide and decide if they meet the criteria to become a voter friendly campus.
Jill Dunlap, senior director for research, policy and civic engagement at NASPA, said there are a number of broad factors that are considered in the designation process. Some of these factors include a campus’ commitment to partner with community organizations and university leadership participation in the process.
“We’re also really interested and invested in making sure that voter engagement and registration efforts aren't only targeted around the presidential election years. There's a lot of voter education you could do in between getting ready for midterms,” Dunlap said. “It's also not even just focused on federal elections, right, like what are your campuses doing to make sure that (students) know who's running for mayor and they're involved in that?”
To receive the designation, universities must build a report on their efforts to civically engage students and send it to the Campus Vote Project and NASPA for review.
OU’s application was compiled by the Center for Campus and Community Engagement, or CCCE. Mary Nally, director of the CCCE, said OU’s strategy to achieve this designation was to influence how students thought about elections.
“We decided within the Center for Campus and Community Engagement … that (increasing student voting participation) can belong in our wheelhouse,” Nally said. “We wanted it to be this from-start-to-finish effort as a way to not just get students excited about being civically engaged for the fall 2020 election but really create a culture shift for students to understand that this is a way to engage and enact in their Bobcat values.”
In order to reach students with the message, the CCCE employed multiple methods of community outreach, including integrating a voter registration module into Bobcat Student Orientation, registering poll workers and developing a lesson plan to be used in Learning Community courses, according to the CCCE’s election engagement report.
This kind of commitment from universities is indicative of the care they have for students’ abilities to vote and have their voices heard, Alexis Crosby, Ohio state coordinator for the Campus Vote Project, said.
“I would say that Ohio University and other campuses that make this kind of commitment do it from a student-focused place and really want to make sure that students have access to voting rights,” Crosby said. “(Getting designated) took — especially doing a pandemic — a really big effort, and they really pulled through.”
One of the reasons why this designation is so important to universities is because of the message it sends to prospective and current students, faculty and staff.
“I think that campuses really do this because it is a sort of badge of honor,” Dunlap said. “It's a symbol to leadership within the institution but also to elected officials in your state and your community as well as to community organizations that you are invested in this as a campus and making sure that students have access to the right to vote and are engaged and educated about how to do that.”
For Nally, this designation is both a symbol and an affirmation of how deeply students, faculty and staff care about politics. Through the work of the CCCE, she feels optimistic about student participation in future elections.
“Last semester, during the fall election, we were really surprised and impressed with how engaged students were and how much they were paying attention to what their elected officials were doing, who the candidates were,” Nally said. “I think the value and democratic principles of being a representative democracy (are) alive and well within our student body.”