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Get Out the Vote

Get Out the VoteTisch College helps coordinate efforts to get out the vote, with help from undergraduates like Emily Hellman (A'10) encouraging students to get to the polls on November 4.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [11.03.08] As the clock ticks down to Election Day, the campaigns and the pundits are taking up the airwaves debating which issues are the most important. But perhaps the one issue they can all agree on is the need to "get out the vote." Historically, Tufts has been a step ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to stepping up to the polls.

With both presidential campaigns working to increase voter registration, Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, notes that, "Even in 2004, more than two-thirds of Tufts students voted."This is in contrast to the national figure of roughly 47 percent in the 18-24 demographic who voted in the last election, according to CIRCLE's website.

Related Audio Slideshow: The Freshman Vote

The hub of voting resources for Tufts students is Tisch College. With motivation already high among student voters, more resources are devoted toward providing them with the information they need to vote.

To that end, Tisch College hosts a database of voter resources, from registration to absentee ballots to basic information on the candidates, as well as links to a variety of external sites. Tufts Votes, a student-run organization that promotes voting, also recognizes the importance of getting out this information.

"Right now we're in the process of reminding people to send in their absentee ballots," says Tufts Votes director Emily Hellman (A'10) told E-News last month, noting that the deadline for submission varies by state. "You don't send it out on the day of the election, so we're trying to get people to send them out as soon as possible."

While Tufts' voting record is exemplary, school administrators have made efforts to help other colleges achieve similar voting rates. Enter the Campus Votes Challenge, a cooperative effort between Tufts and Campus Compact, a national organization that connects university presidents across the country.

Tufts President Lawrence S. Bacow started the effort by issuing a friendly challenge to his fellow presidents to increase voter turnout on their campuses and, through Campus Compact, offered independent third-party confirmation of voter turn-out rates using a Tufts-created voter survey.

"We've already got 50 schools who have signed up to participate in the competition-schools all around the country," says Campus Votes Challenge director and Associate Dean of Tisch College Nancy Wilson.

Encouraging students to vote, or at least to register, is a priority for the Tufts administration every year. "Every year in his matriculation speech, President Bacow says, 'Your first homework assignment is to register to vote,'" Wilson pointed out. "So, I would start it there, then Tufts Votes comes along and tries to keep doing it, and now we're reaching out to other campuses trying to get them, too."

This year, with enthusiasm for the election high on both sides of the race, voter turn-out numbers are sure to be high, made even higher by the work done by Tufts Votes and the other campus organizations that promote voter registration. However, Wilson points out that voting on Election Day is only a small part of making one's voice heard in American politics.

"If you look at CIRCLE's most recent report on the civic health index, it captures how charged up people are about this election, but also the relatively low percentage who expect to stay active on the issues that are driving them to be involved once the elections are over," Wilson said."So to me, that's the challenge. The first challenge is show up and vote, the second challenge is stay involved in your democracy. Voting is not enough."

Wilson adds, "Hopefully, our overall strategy is helping students develop the skills to be able to do that."

Profile by Hayden Reich (A'09).

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