Voting Advocacy Efforts Earn Gold Seal From All IN Campus Democracy Challenge

This article was originally published in The Daily Utah Chronicle on November 27, 2019.

On Nov. 12, the All In Campus Democracy Challenge announced the University of Utah earned the Gold Seal from the All in Challenge for having a campus voting rate between 40-49% in the 2018 midterm election. The ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge is a national awards program the recognizes colleges for their voter participation and encourages efforts to increase active and informed citizenship. Around 577 colleges and universities across the nation participated in 2018.

People casting their votes during the Midterm Elections 2018 at the Salt Lake County Building in Salt Lake City, UT on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. (Photo by Curtis Lin | Daily Utah Chronicle)

“Voter participation is crucial among college students because young people have notoriously low voting turnout. In turn, this means that elected officials may not be truly reflective of the demographics and values that young people hold,” said Sierra McNeil, director of the government relations board of ASUU.

Michaela Lemen, the 2018 director of the government relations board for ASUU and the current director of the Andrew Goodman Foundation on campus, said that the foundation studied why college students do not vote. They found the two biggest factors are convenience and the lack of education on candidates.

To address the first issue, they pushed the Salt Lake County clerks office to allow them to have a voting center on campus. The center was held in the Gould Auditorium in the J. Willard Marriot Library. There were around 2,000 votes cast and mail-in ballots dropped off there.

Additionally, they held weekly booths where students could register to vote and worked with non profits such as Voto Latino and Voterise to ensure voting was accessible to everyone.

The Government Relations Board held a campaign carnival to educate students on the candidates. There were nearly two dozen political candidates attending, including some from the Utah State Legislature and congressional candidates. Chris Stewart, Utah’s Representative for the 2nd Congressional District in the House of Representatives, was one of the attendees.

Gold Seal award. (Courtesy of ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge)

“I think it’s really important for students to know who you elect in the local government is just as, if not more, important than who you elect in the national government,” Lemen said.

The  2019 carnival hosted local candidates from Salt Lake and Davis Counties, as well as nonprofits such as Alliance for a Better Utah, Action Utah and the League of Women Voters Utah.

“I think the narrative of the importance of voting has carried over into 2019,” McNeil said.

Lemen said she got into voting advocacy because people’s lives are directly affected by the decisions politicians make. She encourages everyone to contact their local politicians, campaign and find something that they are passionate about. In her case, she chose environmentalism.

“The only feasible way to get things to change is to vote,” she said.

McNeil said the ultimate goal of these initiatives is to increase transparency in the voting process for students and decrease political apathy as they head into the 2020 elections. The Hinckley Institute and Andrew Goodman Foundation are planning on using all available resources to increase voter turnout.

“This includes letting students know how, where and when to vote, and why it’s so important that they make their voices heard,” McNeil said.