Matt Camarda, Campus Vote Project Intern
September 22, 2016
This summer and fall CVP is writing profiles of colleges and universities and their efforts to educate students about voter registration, casting a ballot and developing democratic engagement. These campuses are a part of the Voter Friendly Campus designation project offered by CVP and NASPA.
James Madison University’s (JMU) namesake has a profound influence on its democratic engagement work. JMU’s students, faculty, and staff do not rest on Madison’s laurels; rather, they use his life as inspiration to become more engaged citizens and to push their peers to follow his example.
JMU students understand that voter engagement works best when students collaborate, which is why the College Democrats and Republicans, Student Government Association, and JMU Virginia-21 created Dukes Vote. The initiative tables frequently in academic buildings, providing easy access to registration through TurboVote and answers any questions students may have. Because Dukes Vote comprises a significant number of student leaders, they’re well positioned to organize student organizations through events like the Constitution Day voter registration contest. Last semester, Dukes Vote set a goal to register 1,000 students before the February 8 primary deadline; a steep challenge given that classes started January 11. But constant registration drives, classrooms visits, and email blasts from administrators helped Dukes Vote register over 2,000 students.
In March, residential students would vote on campus for the first time – the result of a year and a half effort by former student and SGA member, Josh Humphries. Finding that JMU had lower turnout than comparable Virginia schools with campus precincts, he submitted a proposal to the Harrisonburg Board of Elections with the support of JMU’s top administrators. A majority of the board of elections initially opposed the idea but later recommended it to city council. Skeptical residents worried that a campus precinct would isolate students from the city and others thought it would not make enough of a difference. JMU agreed to pay an initial $25,000 and an additional $2,000 per year to maintain it. Bolstered by Dukes Vote’s registration success, the JMU precinct had the third-highest turnout in Harrisonburg with 1,076 votes.
Dukes Vote’s registration push and Humphries’ successful fight for a campus precinct reflect a broad commitment to honoring Madison’s legacy through active citizenship. We are eager to see how JMU preserves the momentum behind increased voter participation and access.
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