Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere Promising Practices: Engaging the Board of Elections
Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere’s promising practices are a key set of recommendations for cultivating civic engagement and access on campus and ultimately sustaining inclusive and equitable campus cultures. This is the sixth post in a Q&A series with Andrew Goodman Campus Champions about our promising practices and how to implement them on campus.
A Q&A with Alison Handy Twang, Andrew Goodman Campus Champion at Binghamton University
A common practice in civic and voter engagement on campus is forging connections with other student groups, administrators, and departments. But have you thought about developing a partnership with your Board of Elections (BOE)?
For our Andrew Goodman Campus Team at Binghamton University, their relationship with the Broome County BOE has been integral to the success of both parties. With the invaluable help of the BOE, our Campus Team has been able to improve students’ accuracy in completing voter registration forms and locating their polling places. Similarly, our Campus Team’s efforts have made the BOE’s job of processing forms and managing their on-campus polling place easier.
According to Alison Handy Twang, Binghamton’s Andrew Goodman Campus Champion, their strong partnership with the BOE has ultimately led to more students registering and turning out to vote! To learn more about how Binghamton’s Campus Team engages with their Board of Elections, read our Q&A with Alison Handy Twang below.
What led the Andrew Goodman Campus Team at Binghamton University to pursue engaging the Board of Elections?
The Broome County Board of Elections has been a key partner for our Andrew Goodman Campus Team’s voter engagement work since the beginning. Our first Andrew Goodman Ambassador established a strong partnership with staff at the BOE, and, especially when we were new to this work, the BOE was an excellent source for accurate information on how to register students to vote and relevant New York voting law. The BOE helped us build many of the foundational components of our voter engagement program, including providing pre-populated on-campus registration forms and streamlining operations of our on-campus polling site.
How did you and the Andrew Goodman Campus Team implement this promising practice? What partnerships or resources did you engage?
A key to engaging with the Board of Elections has been including their staff on our Voter Engagement Advisory Committee. This group, composed of our Andrew Goodman Ambassadors, faculty, staff and community partners, meets monthly to provide strategic direction to our work and discuss opportunities and challenges. We have also been very intentional about approaching our relationship as a true partnership, with each partner receiving benefits from our work together. Our BOE staff are committed to student voting rights and have made it easier for our students to register and vote. At the same time, our Andrew Goodman Ambassadors’ work has made processing student voter registration forms and managing the on-campus polling place and common off-campus student polling places easier for the BOE.
For example, in the past many off-campus students would attempt to vote at the on-campus polling site. This caused delays for all students and led to confusion for off-campus students. Based on feedback from the BOE, we conducted a targeted campaign to educate off-campus students about the importance of updating their addresses and voting at the correct off-campus polling site. Our Ambassadors also staff an off-campus assistance table outside the on-campus polling place to direct students to the correct polling location with instructions to request an affidavit ballot. This work has reduced delays at the on-campus site, has reduced the number of affidavit ballots, and has led to increased success rate when affidavits are needed.
What challenges or obstacles did you face, and how did you overcome these to achieve your goal?
We have been fortunate to have a BOE that believes in our work and has been an active partner for many years. We have not faced challenges in building and maintaining our relationship. Early in our work, we did have some poll workers and staff who did not like that we played music and made our on-campus polling place feel like a party, but it only took a year or so to change the culture of our on-campus poll workers.
Since implementing this promising practice, what impact has it had on your campus?
The most significant impact of our partnership with the BOE has been that more of our students are registering and turning out to vote! For example, the pre-populated on-campus registration form has reduced addressing errors for residential students. Improved efficiency at the on-campus polling site has shortened wait times and reduced confusion.
In partnership with residential life, our BOE automatically updates addresses for our on-campus students when they move living communities and are in a new election district, reducing waits on Election Day and reducing the number of affidavit ballots. A polling place referral slip piloted on our campus has been implemented county-wide, helping all community members cast their ballots. We also have easy access to voting experts who can help us respond to unusual questions or situations. As a result of these and other efforts, we have seen on-campus turnout increase in every local, state and federal election since 2012. Our overall student voting rate increased over 10 percentage points from 2012 to 2016 and over 23 percentage points from 2014 to 2018.
What advice do you have for other colleges and universities trying to engage the Board of Elections?
My first piece of advice is to invite them to join your leadership group or advisory committee. Allow them to be a true partner in guiding your work. Second, see if there are ways that your work can help make their jobs easier and more efficient. For example, if a lot of students are submitting forms with their on-campus address formatted incorrectly or are voting at the wrong polling place, the BOE will likely have an interest in working with you to address these challenges. Finally, be a good partner. Do not wait until 4:00 p.m. on a deadline to bring all your voter registration forms. Make sure forms are neat and organized. Check in to see if there are ways you can support their work.
Now that you have achieved this promising practice, what opportunities will the Andrew Goodman Campus Team at Binghamton explore next to advance civic engagement on your campus?
As we help student voters navigate new questions and challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the BOE has continued to be a key partner. Staff have provided guidance and support as we develop new communication and outreach strategies and have answered questions about relevant voting laws and procedures for our many students who are registered in Broome County but have now returned home. The BOE is also committed to making it easier for every voter to cast their ballot, allowing requests for changes in absentee ballot mailing addresses to be made via phone or email. This flexibility will be key, as many students cannot access a printer, envelope, or stamp at this time. While we continue to await potential state action to make it easier and safer to vote during these unprecedented times, this information has been key to communicating students’ voting options.
Looking ahead, our Andrew Goodman Campus Team will be targeting efforts to engage students who turn out at lower rates, including STEM and business students. We are exploring ways to partner with departments, student organizations and others in these areas to deliver targeted resources and messaging. We are also continuing to build out additional voter education resources, including possibly hosting candidate events on campus.
By establishing and sustaining a truly collaborative and beneficial partnership, Binghamton University’s Campus Team and the Broome County Board of Elections have both benefited—by seeing student voter registration and turnout on the rise. To learn from Andrew Goodman Campus Champions about other promising practices like this one, check out the other interviews in our series.
About The Authors
Alison Handy Twang is the Associate Director at Binghamton University’s Center for Civic Engagement. In her role, Alison is responsible for promoting, developing, and expanding community engagement opportunities for students.
Margaret Sasser is AGF’s Senior Communications Manager. Margaret is passionate about civil rights issues, storytelling, and helping students to become active members of their communities.