One of our greatest civic duties as citizens of the United States of America is voting, but the 2016 election saw one of the lowest voter turnouts in 20 years.
There are seemingly endless reasons why individuals do not vote in larger elections, and these carry over to our college campuses.
Each year, myriad types of elections happen at universities across the country. Student Government, student organization leadership, homecoming courts, even voting processes for campus-wide events like concerts, speakers, and other experiences.
The list of types of elections is endless, but the engagement we see in them is short-lived.
“My vote doesn’t matter.”
“I have no way to get to the polls.”
“What am I even voting about?”
“How can I guarantee that my vote is secure?”
“ I don’t know where or how to vote.”
While we can’t counter every excuse that is thrown at us, we can help mitigate some of the external factors that cause individuals to feel like they can’t or shouldn’t vote.
As student affairs professionals, we can work together to engage our students and encourage their civic responsibility. A positive note for colleges and universities is that all students are eligible to vote in student elections on campus, so that 100% voter turnout you’re dreaming of is actually achievable!
Our most powerful asset in improving voter turnout is the digital world. It’s rare to find a student who doesn’t have a cell phone, a computer, Alexa, Siri, smart cars, Bluetooth, or another digital tool. Digital technology is everywhere — and in a time when it feels as if we’ve lost student engagement to screens, we can capitalize on student affinity for digital technologies and move our processes to where students already are.
Valdosta State University, one of Presence’s campus partners, decided to take the plunge and move their homecoming elections to a digital process and the results were outstanding.
In the words of Evan Fondren, a graduate assistant at Valdosta who helped build their election form, “The form builder is very powerful and provides a lot of flexibility to build any kind of form one might think of.”
Evan and his team decided that Presence would be the best platform to build out their form because we connect with their Single-Sign On (SSO) system, which guarantees that all students can access the form while allowing for the institution to guarantee that only students can vote.
Evan knew that “the one criteria necessary on the form was to make sure voters were able to vote only once” and Presence’s form builder allowed for that setting to be applied to the form. With voters being validated through the login system and the form settings limiting students to one vote each, the major hurdles on the administrative side were taken care of.
Plus, every time a student clicked on the voting link, they were being “pushed to the platform, allowing them to find all sorts of organizations and events they can get plugged into.”
Valdosta not only decided to hold their elections through Presence forms, they also used it to collect nominations. In a two-tier process, Valdosta was able to collect votes for who would be on the final ballot and then push the final voting process across campus.
Take a look at some previews of their awesome forms:
The round one form allowed students to pick their top five candidates, and after verifying the results with real-time tallying using Presence’s analytics, the round two form was able to be built.
The use of pictures really helped with the visual component, allowing students to know exactly who they were voting for!
The numbers speak for themselves: Valdosta had one of the largest voter turnouts they’ve ever had. Plus, all responses were validated and anonymized by Presence to guarantee voter integrity, eliminating the worry that students might vote twice, or that non-students might vote.
While getting students to the traditional polling places can be very difficult, counting their paper ballots can be even harder.
Digitizing the process made it less stressful and time-consuming for administrators, which in turn gave them more time to encourage students to vote.
Evan noted that “while the students were voting, it was fun to watch the results update from the form response dashboard. Plus, with the beauty of the form being electronic, we were able to have the final results immediately after the form closed at midnight.” Once the elections were closed, Valdosta was able to use the Presence summary function to easily see who won via pie graphs.
Congratulations to Michael Sanders and Jayla Flournoy on your wins!
Elections can be daunting and engaging your student body can seem impossible. But with the help of a kick-ass software that helps digitize your processes, elections can become a simple, mainstream way for your students to get engaged on your campus.