National trends in college student voter engagement and turnout showcase that more and more students are voting in smaller state and local elections, like those happening today in Philadelphia and across the country.
For instance, the voting rate among U.S. college students more than doubled from the 2014 to the 2018 federal midterm elections — from about 19 percent in 2014 to about 40 percent in 2018, according to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) which surveys more than 10 million students on 1,000 campuses across the country.
So, why should Drexel University students follow suit with these national averages and get to the polls today? DrexelNow spoke with Jennifer Johnson Kebea, EdD, executive director of Drexel’s Lindy Center for Civic Engagement, about three reasons students should exercise this civic duty, whether it’s by voting in Philadelphia or by submitting an absentee ballot back where they grew up.
“So much change is enacted at the local level,” Kebea said. “It’s our national elections that get all the press and the coverage, but kind of your day-to-day reality of your experience with government happens at the local level.”
It’s part of a new University tradition
The Drexel student voting rate from 2014 to 2018 surpassed the doubled national average by 4.4 percent, meaning that Drexel’s student voter turnout rate in 2018 was 43.5 percent. This rate was also a 2.3 percent-point increase over other research institutions with the University’s same Carnegie classification.
Kebea hopes these voting numbers continue to rise due to the University’s commitment to nonpartisan voter engagement efforts.
“We’re getting students registered to vote, getting students educated about the candidates that they’re voting for, and then the third piece is making sure they show up at the polls,” she said.
Because of these efforts, Drexel has already been deemed a voter-friendly campus through NASPA ( Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education) and the Campus Vote Project, which ensures that the University has the resources and strategy in place to make sure that students can easily register and vote.
Drexel has also banded together with seven other universities in the Colonial Athletic Association to create a collective goal of raising voter turnout rates in the 2020 election by another 10 percent. To support continued nonpartisan voter engagement work across the CAA, Drexel recently led the submission of a $40,000 grant application to the Colonial Academic Alliance which will be awarded later this month.
“It’s just a different way to engage that group where we obviously compete in athletics, but we’re collectively competing and thinking about how to raise our voter engagement rates, specifically voter turn out rates,” Kebea said. “So that’s kind of exciting, I think. … We’re all in it together.”
It’s part of the University’s mission
The national increase in student voter turnout last year is speculated to have happened in part due to the fact that many campuses are placing a renewed emphasis on civic learning and community engagement by students, and of course, Drexel is no exception.
“I think that participating in elections, participating in that part of our democracy, is a central piece of being civically engaged,” Kebea said. “We’re seeing that students across the board, and specifically Gen Z students that we’re recruiting are very interested in being engaged civically.”
Particularly, Drexel’s 2018 voter turnout reflected national trends in a stark increase amongst freshman, or first-year voters. There was an 18.6 percent national increase over the freshman voting turnout in 2014, and Drexel had a similar 21.2 percent increase. Although the Lindy Center focuses on messaging to all students about voting, they specifically target first-year CIVC 101 classes in terms of pushing voter registration.
“A lot of students coming into college are already registered to vote, but we want to make sure they definitely are when they’re taking that class,” Kebea said.
Drexel makes it easy
In addition to a focus on engaging CIVC 101 students, there are several other ways that the Lindy Center and its partners, like the Office of Government & Community Relations, work to make the voting process easier for students. Although you can register online to vote in Pennsylvania, the Lindy Center also offers year-round support for anyone who might have questions or want to do it in person.
“Maybe they live in a different state and they’re going to keep their polling place in that state, so how does that look? What is the absentee process for them? We can help support that,” Kebea said.
Drexel is also fortunate enough to have a polling place right on campus — the Daskalakis Athletic Center — to cast your ballot today. The DAC is the designated polling place for any students who live on campus and registered to vote and their current address.
And even though Drexel’s international student body can’t vote, Kebea says she’d encourage such students to be engaged with this part of American democracy while they’re here.
“They can learn more about it,” she said. “They can encourage their peers who are citizens to vote, and they can get engaged in a supportive roll if that’s something that interests them. “
All in all, the proof is in the numbers that Drexel students are set to show up and make an impact in today’s elections. Make sure you don’t miss out! Polls in Pennsylvania are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. You can find the location of and directions to your polling place at PhiladelphiaVotes.com, or find out more about provisional ballots at Philadelphiavotes.com/en/voters/provisional-ballots.
For a complete list of elections here in Philadelphia and other information, visit the Committee of Seventy website at Seventy.org/publications/elections-voting. If you have any further questions, stop by the Lindy Center at 3210 Cherry St. today!
“There are a lot of local elections that are at stake [today], and I think that’s an important component of keeping communities strong and healthy, and we hope students participate in this election as well,” Kebea said.