‘It’s part of our civic duty’: WashU Votes aims to increase turnout, prepares to help students vote by mail
WashU Votes, a partner of the Washington University Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, is aiming to increase student voter turnout for the Nov. 3 presidential election by 10 points from 2016.
According to the Gephardt Institute, 79.6% of University students were registered to vote in the 2016 presidential election, but only 52.5% actually voted. While this was a 10.9% increase since the 2012 presidential election, WashU Votes aims to increase student voter turnout to at least 62.5% in 2020.
Gephardt Institute Voter Engagement Fellow and recent graduate Lindsay Gassman said that WashU Votes works to make sure students are not only registered to vote, but have the information they need to cast their ballots and make educated voting decisions.
“We’re trying to provide as much information and as many resources as possible,” Gassman said.
Outreach Chair Otto Brown said that “whether students choose to vote here in Missouri or in their home state, WashU Votes works to ensure that everyone who can vote is able to vote.”
But voting in Missouri comes with barriers, according to Gassman. First-time Missouri voters are required to include a copy of a valid ID with their mail-in or absentee ballot request, and Missouri is one of three states that requires in-person ballot notarization.
In light of those challenges, Gassman said that the Gephardt Institute, in partnership with WashU Votes, is committed to making voting as accessible as possible. The Institute plans to hold several notary events on campus so people have ample opportunities to get their ballots notarized. Students can pick up free stamps and envelopes in the South 40, Village and Loft mailrooms.
With the Oct. 7 registration deadline quickly approaching, Brown emphasized that students should register to vote as soon as possible in case mistakes are made on the application.
“That application has to be postmarked by October 7,” Brown said. “We want to make sure people do it early enough so that if something does go wrong, they have time to figure out how to do it right.”
Absentee and mail-in ballot requests are due Oct. 21, which is less than two weeks before the election. With the United States Postal Service (USPS) facing an influx of mail-in and absentee ballots due to COVID-19, Brown said the USPS recommends mailing back completed ballots at least 10 days before the election.
“If you’re voting by mail or absentee, Oct. 24 is your Election Day, not Nov. 3,” Brown said.
With fewer opportunities to spread this information in person, Events Chair Ethan Liss-Roy said WashU Votes made changes to its traditional outreach process. After discussing strategies with national voter organizations and peer institutions such as the Harvard Vote Challenge, Yale Every Vote Counts, UChi Votes, Penn Leads the Vote, Columbia Votes and Stanford Votes, Liss-Roy said WashU Votes transitioned from broad-based initiatives to specific outreach programs.
“We began partnering with student groups, varsity athletics, and club sports to provide easy access to Washu Votes’ voter information, as well as any additional support they need,” Liss-Roy said.
WashU Votes also worked to expand outreach digitally. The WashU Votes website now features COVID-19 and mail-in voting frequently asked questions, and over the summer, WashU Votes launched their Instagram account. The Gephardt Institute also holds weekly voter support hours over Zoom, where University community members can ask voting-related questions.
By providing a variety of resources, Liss-Roy hopes to combat misinformation. He said that with “so many hoops to jump through” and specific regulations pertaining to voting in Missouri, it is easy for false information to spread.
“There was this big push on social media to use ballot drop-off boxes, and while that applied to a lot of states, we cannot do that in Missouri,” Liss-Roy said.
Gassman added that among students, there are misconceptions about voting eligibility in Missouri.
“Some students have been saying that only people with a Missouri driver’s license can vote in Missouri,” Gassman said. “This is false. Anyone with a mailing address in Missouri can vote here, and a student ID is an acceptable form of identification.”
With less than five weeks until Election Day, Gassman emphasized the importance of “using your voice” and voting in the 2020 presidential election.
“It’s part of our civic duty,” Gassman said. “Democracy only works if people participate in it.”