Knowledge that Works at the Polls

Jordan Borkoski, CCMA AmeriCorps VISTA, University of Baltimore

June 9, 2018

The University of Baltimore was recently recognized as the only Gold Seal recipient in the All-In Campus Democracy Challenge for the 2016 General Election. The Gold Seal is presented to campuses that achieve a voter turnout of 70% or higher. The All-In Challenge is comprised of over 300 colleges and universities across the nation and has a goal of increasing voter registration and engagement on college campuses. The “UB Votes” initiative, along with the fact that UB features a diverse and civic-minded community of learners, contributes to this success, and reinforces UB’s institutional commitment to “Knowledge that Works.” The UB Votes initiative is spearheaded by Pavan Purswani, Coordinator for Transition Programs in the Office of Transitions and Community Engagement, and is a part of the office’s ongoing efforts to engage voters.

While UB’s standing as an urban campus with a non-traditional campus community made up of diverse, civic-minded students is certainly a great starting point, the UB Votes campaign provided some useful lesson for schools that wish to increase civic engagement among students. UB Votes leverages a variety of strategies aimed at educating the campus community about the importance of voting. Topics like important election deadlines, the voter registration process in the state of Maryland, and absentee voting the campaign, are offered to make information easily accessible. During the 2016 election, this included a series of “Top 10 Tips for Student Voter” videos posted on social media leading up to the election, signage with a QR code leading to the UB Votes webpage, digital signage, emails, and a debate watch party.

Social media continues to be a successful platform for reaching students, particularly on a non-traditional campus like UB.  A large part of the campaign was a series of 10 videos, featuring 10 students and staff that provided tips for student voters. One video was posted each day until Election Day. On Election Day, a short clip of each individual saying “UB Votes” was posted each hour as a reminder for people to get out and vote. In addition to social media outreach, emails with information about voter registration, election day information, and early voter turnout was sent to student organizations and freshmen students, reaching 433 individuals. Similar posts were made daily on the campus-wide event alert system, the daily e-mail digest, and on the University of Baltimore’s event calendar.

An exciting development for this upcoming year, is that UB Votes is expanding. Recently, UB was accepted into the Andrew Goodman Foundation’s Vote Everywhere initiative. The Andrew Goodman Foundation was founded in honor of a high school student in Mississippi who was murdered after he joined Freedom Summer, a program which aimed to register African-Americans to vote. The Foundation helps students grow into civic-minded and engaged citizens. They aim to eliminate barriers concerning proof of residency, absentee ballots, polling places,  and voter identification. By participating, UB will be able to offer two year-long fellowships for students annually, devoted to voter engagement, awareness, registration and education.  Additionally, work is being done to bring together different campus stakeholders that often promote democratic engagement to create a working group that will be able to catalogue and implement existing and new initiatives. 

While there is still a great deal of work ahead, Pavan Purswani and the Office of Transitions and Community Engagement will continue to work to drive voter engagement at UB.  And while other campuses may consider adopting some of the successful practices at UB, it’s important to choose strategies that work for your campus and that keep your institution’s unique culture and practices in mind.

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