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Friday, September 05, 2008

"Ten Easy Ways to Register Students to Vote"

Dear HAW Member,

Even those of us who don't trust electoral politics acknowledge that much of the fall's discussions among students will have the elections as a backdrop and inspiring motive. Hence, get out the vote efforts can be very effective ways of reaching students who otherwise might not feel comfortable discussing political questions; they can also build strong networks among activist students and teachers on campus, and encourage open policy debate. With this in mind, we forward the following guidelines, developed by the "F&M Votes Coalition" at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA, for encouraging the "get out the vote" effort this fall on your campus. Note: F&M's coalition has registered over 2,000 students from 2004-2008, and turned out large majorities of the College’s student body to vote on Election Day. Questions can be directed to Van Gosse at van.gosse@fandm.edu.


TEN EASY STEPS TO REGISTER STUDENTS TO VOTE

STEP ONE

Create a nonpartisan coalition, incorporating students, faculty and staff, to register, educate, and turn out students to vote. Remember: Since the Help American Vote Act was passed, all colleges and universities receiving any federal funding are required to make a good effort to register students, so you are helping out your school by doing this. Meet with senior administrators, even your president, to explain your plans and ask for their support.

STEP TWO

Investigate:

1. When is the registration deadline in your state (typically 30 days before Election Day)?

2. How do you properly fill out your state’s voter registration form, including any rules on assisting registrants?

3. Where are the current polling places for students resident at, or living nearby, your campus?

STEP THREE

Make your own customized voter registration form, using an original from your state but adding in all possible information (e.g. if these students live on campus, you can fill that information in). Make sure you receive prior approval from your County Board of Elections to do this, and copy the “customized” form onto the lower half of a sheet with instructions about it [see attached] so as to speed up the process.

STEP FOUR

Organize a crew for “Move-In Day,” when first-years show up with their parents, new furniture and CD collections to collect room keys, sign up for bank accounts etc. Most schools do this in their gym or student center. If you can arrange for a strategically-placed table, and have several people stand in front of it with clipboards full of (preferably customized) voter registration forms, you can easily sign up one or two hundred new voters. Tips:

· train all volunteers on filling our the registration forms

· give all volunteers “talking points” so they can explain to students why it behooves them to register here (are they now in a swing state? How many students actually manage to vote absentee? How close will their polling station now be?)

· have extra clipboards on the table with pens

· if possible get the school to fund some kind of simple give-away, whether edible or otherwise; at F&M we made 500 “F&M Votes” Frisbees with our logo on them

· be prepared for parents who will get very suspicious and weird, as in “he’s already taken care of, he votes at home” without waiting to see what their son actually wants to do

STEP FIVE

Table at your Student Activities Fair: again, typically early in the fall term there is a day when all student organizations staff tables and seek members. Your clipboarders should circulate through the crowd, asking people to register to vote.

STEP SIX

Later in September, organize an in-class registration week. After clearing it with the appropriate dean, a respected professor of the faculty should email the entire faculty, asking if they can spare ten minutes at the beginning of a class for a volunteer to hand out forms and help students fill them out. The coordinator should link volunteers to classrooms at the professors’ convenience. Volunteers must be trained so that they do not waste classtime.

STEP SEVEN

Use the registration deadline for a final push—tabling, clipboarding at key points on campus. Ask a leading campus administrator to send a message to all students that this is their last chance.

STEP EIGHT

The month before the election is ideal for voter education: forums with professors to explain the issues, debates between Campus Republicans and College Democrats, guest speakers, a film series, etc.

STEP NINE

In the week before the election, organize systematic Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) operations in the dorms and/or your campus neighborhood: putting a flyer with location of the polling place and hours under every door, to begin with. Even better is creating a list of registered students from the current voter list held by your county board of elections, which by law is available for the public. Go door-to-door, ask for that specific voter and remind him or her to vote, making sure they have all necessary information.

STEP TEN

On Election Day itself, open an Election Headquarters early in the AM in your Student Center, with banners, coffee and free food, and keep it open until the polls close. This is to remind students where to vote, and encourage them to do so: many students will still be uncertain as to whether or not they are registered, and where, or even how late they can vote. Make sure you have the current list of registered voters. If there is any question of hostile individuals or groups “challenging” the right of your students to vote, get sympathetic faculty and staff to act as poll greeters, ready to call in on cell phones to report any problems. If you do anticipate these challenges, get your college’s legal counsel alerted in advance, ready to apply to a judge for redress: it has repeatedly been established in court cases around the country that students have right to vote where they go to school, but there is considerable local resistance to “non-residents” exercising their rights.

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