By Cici Battle/Campus Vote Project Florida Coordinator
People who follow electoral politics often lament the low voter turnout for midterm compared to presidential election years. In a state like Florida, it means that fewer voters turn out to elect a governor than go to the polls to elect a president. College students, in particular, represent a segment of the population where off-year participation is especially low.
Historically, this drop-off trend among young voters during midterm elections means a population that is often underrepresented during a presidential election year is less represented during the midterm elections.
Student and young professional turnout is often driven by massive registration and Get Out The Vote operations by presidential campaigns. Traditionally, state and congressional races do not mount these comprehensive, multimedia efforts.
While voter turnout drop offs have been a historical trend for many years, the drop off among young voters is particularly steep.
- Percentage of college students who voted
- 2008: 60%
- 2010: 26.5%
- Percentage of voters who were 18-24 years old:
- 2008: 9.5%
- 2010: 5.9%
- Percentage of Millennials who say they will definitely vote in these elections:
- 2014: 28%
- 2016: 55%
(Harstad Strategic Research, Inc., 2014).
The Campus Vote Project (CVP) was established in 2012 to address the issues student voters face in college communities and provide the resources and information students need to register and vote. CVP is a project of the Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN), a national, nonpartisan organization whose mission is to remove barriers to registration and voting for traditionally underrepresented communities. CVP has worked with partners and on campuses across the country including Florida, and this year we will continue our efforts to improve student turnout in this important election.
CVP has a dedicated Florida Coordinator working to provide information and resources that will help Florida students register and vote, and as a result become more civically engaged as the November elections draw closer. Some of the best practices we are asking Florida college campuses to adopt include with the collaboration of administrators, faculty, students, local election officials, and community partners to tackle the information deficit, promote voter registration, and reduce barriers to voting.
Misconceptions about why college students and young professionals do not turn out at the polls include the belief that young people are apathetic about electoral politics. A recent study from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) found that students cited being too busy or having conflicts, being out of town, forgetting to vote or send in their ballot, and having other registration or transportation problems as reasons they didn’t vote. Only 17% said they didn’t vote because they were not interested or thought their vote wouldn’t count. CVP works with colleges to make sure students have the information they need to register and vote before deadlines.
Examining civic engagement and education of students they are of voting age will help to better understand the lack of student activity at the polls.
How do students become civicly engaged? What does it mean to be civically engaged? Historically, in the United States, how you learn civics – if at all – was determined by geography. Different states address civic education at various points in the curriculum and in different grade years.
In 2010, the Florida Legislature enacted a mandate for civics education, The Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Education Act. This law creates an extensive middle school civics program. The legislation had bipartisan sponsorship and the bill language effectively made civic education a graduation requirement in the state of Florida.
What happens after students graduate from high school? Do Florida’s young adults enter the workforce or show up on a college campus primed to be civically engaged citizens?
Florida’s civics requirements are a good first step to developing engaged citizens, but efforts to address the civic engagement gap among today’s college students and young professionals help carry that work to fruition. Activities that engage young people also fill any gaps in civic education students are often lacking.
Florida’s civic education initiative offers the prospect of preparing students to be engaged citizens throughout their lives. The next step is fostering active civic engagement during young adulthood – especially during the traditional “college years” from age 18 to 24.
National efforts to foster civic engagement and voting have taken different forms over the years. Recently, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have worked to initiate a national focus on civic education.
In contrast to traditional civic education, civic learning and democratic engagement today are more ambitious and participatory than in the past. Secretary Arne Duncan and retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor have pointed out that if civic education is to become more engaging, it must seek to move beyond your “grandmother’s civics” to what has been labeled “action civics” (O’Connor and Duncan, 2011). The goals of traditional civic education, such as increasing civic knowledge, voter participation, or volunteerism, remain worth pursuing. However, the new generation of civic learning puts students at the center and includes both learning and practice—not just rote memorization of names, dates, and processes. And more and more, civic educators are harnessing the power of technology and social networking to engage students across place and time.
(U.S. Department of Education, 2012).
The Higher Education Act of 1965 has specific requirements for colleges and universities to provide voter registration information to students. The U.S. Department of Education published “Advancing Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy: A Road Map and Call to Action,” outlining the department’s plan to expand and transform approaches to civic learning and democratic engagement and calls on K–12 schools as well as colleges and universities to incorporate this initiative into their missions.
To help college administrators, student government and campus organizations achieve that mission, CVP provides resources and support to help tackle the information deficit (National Secondary Postsecondary Education Cooperative, 2009).
How can colleges and universities foster a culture of civic engagement on campuses across Florida?
The first step in creating a culture of civic engagement involves connecting students to the voting process. Efforts to establish this connection include working to eliminate barriers students have traditionally faced when they attempt to register and vote when they are in college and away from their home communities. These barriers include a lack of knowledge of voter registration deadlines, how and when to update your registration address, the process for early voting, and even just knowing the date and times students can cast their ballot. CVP encourages campuses to have a page on the official school website with registration and voting information, host debates, encourage voter registration drives, work with local election officials to get an early voting location or Election Day polling location on campus, and other activities that help students participate.
What are some local examples of best practices for fostering student participation college campuses? The University of Florida in Gainesville has links available to voter registration forms on its Integrated Student Information (ISIS) website. This allows students to see links to voter registration forms every time they login to their student homepage.
Miami Dade College fosters civic engagement with a number of activities. Miami Dade College hosts regular candidate forums and debates to engage students and the community. The college also issues student ID cards that contain the student’s photo and signature, qualifying them as valid voter ID in Florida. Miami Dade College has voter registration available in the student life office on each of its eight campuses. Student government officers have embraced the civic engagement effort by visiting classrooms to talk about voting and hold early voting rallies. As part of these events, the college president along with many faculty and staff members vote early alongside students as part of the event.
These types of activities are effective because they are ongoing efforts and part of the institutional culture. These are some of the examples of work CVP would like to encourage on more of Florida’s campuses. As November draws closer we will be meeting with administrators and student leaders to establish more opportunities for students to become engaged and participate in the election.
Nationally and in Florida, FELN and CVP will be promoting National Voter Registration Day NVRD, a nationwide effort to register voters on September 23rd. In 2008, 6 million Americans did not vote because they missed a registration deadline or did not know how to register. NVRD brings awareness of voter registration opportunities and to make sure voters register before the deadline. It is a great way for students to be involved and help bridge the information gap in their college community. In 2014, we can make sure that no one – including college students – is left out.
Campus Vote Project has started an action to get students excited and motivated to vote in the midterm elections, Voter Pledge 2014. We are encouraging Florida students to join students from across the country to make a pledge to participate in the midterm elections, and share their pledges with us on Twitter.
We hope more Florida students will be engaged in this November’s election and will be inspired to educate other students. With campus administrators doing their part to educate and provide resources to students, more young people will register and vote.
Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. (2012). National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement. Retrieved from: http://www.civicyouth.org/about-circle/nslve/
FL Stat § 1003.4156 (2013). 2013 Florida Statutes TITLE XLVIII – K-20 EDUCATION CODE Chapter 1003 – PUBLIC K-12 EDUCATION Part IV – PUBLIC K-12 EDUCATIONAL INSTRUCTION (ss. 1003.41-1003.499) 1003.4156 – General requirements for middle grades promotion. Retrieved from: http://law.justia.com/codes/florida/2013/title-xlviii/chapter-1003/part-iv/section-1003.4156
Harstad Strategic Research, Inc. (2014). National Online Survey of Millennial Adults.
National Postsecondary Education Cooperative. (2009). Information Required to Be Disclosed Under the Higher Education Act of 1965: Suggestions for Dissemination (Updated) (NPEC 2010-831v2), prepared by Carol Fuller and Carlo Salerno, Coffey Consulting. Washington, DC.
New York Times. (1996). POLITICS: REGISTRATION; Florida May Take Motor Voter Step Further. February 25, 1996. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/1996/02/25/us/politics-registration-florida-may-take-motor-voter-step-further.html
O’Connor, S.D. and Duncan, A. (2011). How to Reboot Civics Education. The Daily Beast. Retrieved from: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/07/01/icivics-sandra-day-o-connor-and-arne-duncan-on-civics-education-online.html
U.S. Department of Education. (2012). Advancing Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy: A Road Map and Call to Action. Office of the Under Secretary and Office of Postsecondary Education, Washington, D.C., 2012. http://www.ed.gov/sites/default/files/road-map-call-to-action.pdf
About Cici Battle:
Hailing from Miami, Florida by way of Denver, Colorado, Cici is a vivacious higher education professional who is passionate about youth empowerment and engagement, mentorship and international engagement. She most recently served as the Statewide Youth Engagement Coordinator for the Department of Juvenile Justice in the Office of Prevention and Victim Services. In this position, she served as the manager of the Florida Youth Commission; a statewide youth board which advises the Governor’s Children’s and Youth Cabinet.
Prior to joining DJJ, she served as a Gubernatorial Fellow in the Department of Education, in the Division of Florida Colleges and in the Department of Juvenile Justice, in the Secretary’s Office. Ms. Battle earned her Master’s Degree in Higher Education Administration with a focus on Educational Policy and her Bachelor’s in Psychology with an emphasis on Leadership Development from Florida International University.