This week at Norris, amid the hubbub of a new school year, enticing seasonal drinks and important career fairs, NU Votes launched its latest effort to register voters and encourage Northwestern students to participate in American democracy.
Starting Monday, members of the non-partisan group NU Votes camped out at the main entrance on the mezzanine level of Norris University Center, available to give students information about registering to vote, updating their registration information and requesting absentee ballots in all 50 states.
NU Votes became a part of the Center for Civic Engagement in 2011. Most students interact with the group their first day on campus freshman year, when they get the chance to register as they pick up their Wildcard. Rob Donahue, the assistant director at the Center for Civic Engagement said the idea was an extension of Illinois’ motor-voter laws.
“We think it is imperative that when people turn 18 and go off to college, getting registered to vote should be synonymous with that experience,” Donahue said.
While the voter registration rate for incoming Northwestern freshmen is typically 35 to 40 percent, for students that moved in during Wildcat Welcome and picked up their Wildcard this year, that rate skyrocketed to 96 percent.
Northwestern’s leadership in promoting active voter engagement was recognized repeatedly during the 2012 presidential election, earning a piece about NU Votes in the New York Times and recognition by the U.S. Congress.
“There’s a clause in the Higher Education Act that requires universities to do something on voter registration,” Donahue said. “Northwestern was one of the first universities in the country to really embrace the spirit of this requirement. Teaching citizenship is part of the mission of educational institutions.”
NU Votes has further ramped up its efforts in order to accommodate student interest in voting in the historic 2016 presidential election. At NUVotes.org, online tools tailored for Northwestern allow students, staff and faculty to check their registration, register to vote, update their registration information and request an absentee ballot.
SESP senior Bella Sandoval is a volunteer team leader for the registration table and said she has been encouraging students to let NU Votes help them out.
“It’s crunch time,” Sandoval said. “We’ll do 90 percent of the work. All you have to do is come and give us your information. It’s the easiest it can get. The five to ten minutes it’s going to take you to get your ballot is so worth it in the end.”
College-age adults still vote far less often than other age demographics. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in the 2012 Presidential Election turnout among 18 to 24-year olds was only 38 percent.
“We used to take students to Capitol Hill,” Donahue said. “I remember a student asked a Senator once, ‘Why don’t you pay more attention to youth issues?’ and he said, ‘Because you guys don’t vote.’”
Weinberg senior Eric Lombardo, who is voting for the first time in a presidential election, said NU Votes helped him register as a voter in Illinois in less than five minutes.
“It’s good to be a part of the process whether you have a lot of faith in it or not,” Lombardo said. “At least you can try to make it better yourself.”
If you want to learn how to vote, visit the voter registration table in Norris anytime between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Thursday or Friday. Online information and tools are available at NUVotes.org.
Editor's note: in a previous version of this story, one of the photo captions said NU Votes was put on by the "Center for Civil Engagement." This is incorrect. It is actually "Center for Civic Engagement." NBN regrets this mistake, which was fixed at 6:25 p.m. on September 30.