Library workers understand the power of knowledge. We understand how important it is to recognize when we need information, know where and how to find it, and understand how to put it to use in the world. And we enthusiastically accept the duties and privileges of sharing these skills with others. As we head into fall election season, I hope we’ll all consider voter education an important component of our role as campus educators.
It’s not our role to tell anyone how to cast their vote. But we can help educate voters about the election issues that affect their universities, their neighborhoods, and their lives. We can make sure that new voters understand local regulations and procedures so they can cast their ballot. We can provide non-partisan information and encouragement to help get disengaged voters more involved. And we can reinforce for all voters that their participation matters.
There are many resources available to help us with voter education and outreach on our campuses. Kristen Muthig from the Campus Vote Project offers some terrific ones below. For even more, check out this League of Women Voters blog post, or their recent ALA webinar on voter outreach.
Library workers are committed to helping our students become responsible, informed members of society—not just in election season, but all year round. There may be no more important way to apply our skills in teaching and information literacy than by helping our library students and users make it successfully to the polls. After all, it’s by voting that they will literally help shape their worlds.
-Karen Munro, ACRL 2018-19 Vice-President/ President-Elect
Back To School Offers Libraries Opportunities to Prep Students for Midterm Elections
By Kristen Muthig, Communications and Policy Manager for Campus Vote Project
Summer is winding down, students are returning to college, and midterm elections are on the horizon. Registration deadlines for many states are just over a month away which means this is crunch time for people to take the first step to cast a ballot in November. Delivering registration and voting information to college students, who are often new voters living in new communities, is critical especially during this busy time. Libraries and their staff have an opportunity to be prime resources and trusted messengers leading up to Election Day.
Young people ages 18-24 are an increasingly large block of eligible voters in the country but they vote at rates that are half of those of older generations. Recent surveys show an increase in the number of youth planning to vote in the 2018 midterms. The 2018 Spring Harvard IOP Survey of Young Americans found a 7% increase in 2018 in the number of youth who consider themselves “politically engaged or politically active,” over 2014 survey results. Competitive 2018 primary races and mobilization around issues like gun control have also energized young voters and increased registration and participation.
For this trend to continue barriers to registration and voting must be overcome. The knowledge barrier for students can be particularly debilitating. Many students don’t understand how to register because they are new to the process, what the deadlines are, options to cast a ballot early, and what ID to bring on Election Day. Compounding this is the fact that many young people are moving to or returning to college this month and, in addition to moving, starting classes, and adjusting to campus life, many will have to register to vote or update their voting address, even if they voted in the primary just a few months ago.
To overcome this barrier, Campus Vote Project works with college administrators, faculty and staff to establish plans to educate students not only on voter registration but the options and requirements for casting a ballot. Libraries and the librarians and reference staff on college campuses can facilitate engagement plans and offer this information as part of the services they provide.
What can libraries do to empower students with nonpartisan information and reminders so they register and vote in the midterm elections?
- Online voter registration is available in 37 states and DC. Even if it isn’t offered in the state where you work, students may register with their home address in a state that may have online voter registration. Campus Vote Project’s guides have state-by-state guides that include links to online registration and paper forms that can be downloaded and printed.
- Electronic communications are the best way to frequently and directly reach students. People need to read or hear information multiple times and via multiple outlets to remember and act on it. Including links, important deadlines, and other registration and voting information in multiple emails, newsletters, and social media posts (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) make it more likely student voters will remember that information.
- Campus Vote Project has designed Back to School graphics that are perfect for social media and other e-communications. You can find all of them here.
- Dedicate a page on the library website for voting information and nonpartisan candidate and issue information. The Monroe County Public Library in Indiana partnered with their local chapter of the League of Women voters to create a “Be A Voter” section on their website with subpages that include registration information, important dates, FAQs, legislative updates and other information.*
*You don’t have to find voting information on your own. Organizations like Campus Vote Project and the League of Women Voters have updated information on voting and candidate guides for your state. Your local elections office is also a valuable resource for forms and information.
- All states offer paper registration forms which can be printed or copies can be requested from your local elections office or secretary of state. The federal mail-in voter registration application may also be used.
- Display an Election Day countdown near the entrance or in the window of your library. This can be as simple or as elaborate as you like; the important thing is reminding people that Election Day is coming up.
- Display books that explore our democracy and voting. Make sure the display offers different points of view and remains nonpartisan.
- Host a nonpartisan debate watch party or host issue discussions. Campus Vote Project encourage students to host debate watch parties or to invite candidates to participate in an on-campus debate. Depending on your facilities, the library could be a good location for this.
150 campuses have signed up with the Voter Friendly Campus designation program and are executing democratic engagement plans. If your college is participating, Campus Vote Project can connect you with the contact person.
The potential for young people to participate in the midterms and make a difference in their communities is there, but sometimes they need help finding the information needed to cast a ballot. Libraries and their staff can be a contributing influence and help students participate in November.
If you have questions or are looking for registration and voting resources please contact Campus Vote Project at firstname.lastname@example.org.