Organizing a Meaningful & Effective Voter Registration Drive on College Campuses

Laura Merrifield Wilson, Associate Professor, History and Political Science, University of Indianapolis,  Dr. Whitney Tipton, Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Indianapolis and, Ms. Ally Nickerson, undergraduate student and Senior Project Director for UIndyVotes!, University of Indianapolis.

This session will go through the ins and outs of creating a meaningful and effective voter registration and education drive.  The 2020 election demonstrated a renewed interest on behalf of voters with record voter turnout in many places across the country and democracies require educated and engaged voters in order to thrive for the common good.  Yet organizing and implementing a voter registration drive can be intimidating and confusing.  This session will cover the basics, provide easy and thoughtful takeaways, and give participants the key components that they should consider and pursue when organizing their own effort.  This session will focus specifically on voter registration but will build on the tenets of civic education and the role higher education plays in connecting with its community and cultivating reciprocal, thoughtful partnerships.

Coming together for the common good should be an essential tenet of nonpartisan voter registration because the goal of registering voters is deeply tied to contributing to an active and healthy democracy.  The “common good” is in helping create an engaged and educated electorate.  Our experiences organizing and implementing voter registration drives, both on campus and within the larger community, require groups of dedicated individuals with different backgrounds, experiences, and even partisan preferences, to come together to help register voters.

This presentation will share the best practices our group has learned in creating effective and successful voter registration drives.  We have just completed our fourth iteration of UIndyVotes!, our voter registration and education project, and have learned a lot through each experience, including what to do and what to avoid.  In this session, we would be providing an overview of our process (from organizing months in advance, to cultivating community partnerships, to creating an on-campus presence, to training students on how to register voters, etc.).

One of the most important things that anyone beginning a voter registration drive must consider is the target audience they want to reach and whom they should work with to be good stewards in the process.  Our efforts on our campus involved different partnerships than those in our community, despite sharing the same general goal of voter registration and education.  Finding the right community partners and communicating with them, listening to their needs and concerns, communicating your work, and involving the students to give them a greater background and understanding are all critical to constructing a successful voter registration drive.  The key components we have learned through our experience are broadly applicable and should be helpful to any audience member who is interested in connecting students in a class with community partners to work towards the common good (of course, those who are interested in civic education would benefit substantially as well).  This session would incorporate enough range in material to be meaningful for the new beginner through a more intermediate individual with greater experience.

Our presentation team consists of our UIndyVotes! leadership: professors Laura Merrifield Wilson and Whitney Tipton and senior project director, Ally Nickerson.  Wilson and Tipton are experts on two key aspects of voter registration drives; Wilson’s research in political science involves student engagement and voting behavior while Tipton’s research in communication focuses on the effects of messaging in civic activity.  Nickerson has served as a remarkable student leader for the last three years and will offer her own perspective and advice for the invaluable role student leadership plays in this kind of work.  The three presenters will take turns explaining the process (including the key components noted above), the challenges and solutions, the scalability factor (how this idea can be enlarged or minimized to fit need and ability), and the best practice takeaways that audience members can use to create or enhance their own similar efforts.  ”