Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere Promising Practices: Institutionalizing Voter Registration in New Student Orientation
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 second 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 Steven Adelson, Andrew Goodman Campus Champion at Stony Brook University
Leading up to the Fall 2019 semester alone, the Andrew Goodman Campus Team at Stony Brook University (SBU) registered 3,070 students to vote. Since 2015, the SBU Campus Team has been logging sky-high voter registration numbers. How does the team of Andrew Goodman Ambassadors reach so many students every year? The answer is through institutionalization, a strategy of incorporating voter registration into preexisting aspects of campus life.
Specifically at SBU, the Campus Team chose to institutionalize voter registration into new student orientation, and subsequently into the orientations for transfer and graduate students and more.
By institutionalizing voter registration into SBU’s various orientation programs, the Campus Team is ensuring that 100 percent of students have the opportunity to register to vote upon first setting foot on campus. The team has also pioneered the concept of “bottlenecking,” where all traffic in a high foot-traffic area must pass by a voter registration table.
Through institutionalizing voter registration at orientation, the Campus Team’s efforts will be sustainable for years to come. To learn more about how they created and executed this strategy, read our Q&A with Andrew Goodman Campus Champion Steven Adelson below.
What led the Andrew Goodman Campus Team at Stony Brook University to pursue institutionalizing voter registration in new student orientation?
Voter registration had been available at new student orientation, but only for new first-year students. The outreach was no more than an unstaffed table at the end of each orientation session with a stack of blank voter registration applications and some pens. In 2012, only 70 new first-year students registered to vote at new student orientation, which was less than 3 percent of the incoming class. Even more concerning, only four of those 70 students successfully registered to vote on their own. From that point on, we realized that there was a need to provide a better voter engagement experience for our students. The goal became to ensure that each student had an opportunity to successfully register to vote before their first day of classes.
How did you and the Andrew Goodman Campus Team implement this promising practice? What partnerships or resources did you engage?
First, we worked to refine and perfect our voter registration model for first-year students through new student orientation. Through our partnership with The Andrew Goodman Foundation and its Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere program, we were able to have Andrew Goodman Ambassadors staff the voter registration table. Our Ambassadors ensure each student has an opportunity to register to vote, and they provide dedicated support as students complete their applications. Furthermore, we created step-by-step guides that provide helpful information to students as they complete their applications. These guides also allow our Ambassadors to work with more students at any given time because the guides answer most questions students have. We also worked with our Office for Student Orientation and Family Programs to ensure our presence at new student orientation was an institutionalized part of the experience.
Once we refined and perfected the model for first-year students, we were able to focus our time and energy on expanding our model to meet the needs of the rest of our students. From 2016 through early 2019, we expanded our model to include transfer students, students in the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), student-athletes, some graduate and professional student programs, and more. We also started to provide voter registration at December and January new student orientation experiences for students admitted in spring semesters. Each of our student populations is unique and has specific needs, and our model is now tailored to meet those needs.
There are countless partnerships and resources that supported the development of our model over these past several years, but The Andrew Goodman Foundation and its Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere program were there from the very beginning.
What challenges or obstacles did you face, and how did you overcome these to achieve your goal? Since implementing this promising practice, what impact has it had on your campus?
The greatest challenge we have faced in institutionalizing voter registration for all our students is our institution’s decentralized approach to orienting students to the campus. While a majority of our first-year and transfer students have a fairly similar and consistent orientation experience, there are specific student populations that have different experiences. We spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out what those experiences were. This allowed us to connect with the necessary campus partners to integrate voter registration as part of their new student orientation experiences.
As a result of implementing this promising practice, we are able to ensure that almost all undergraduate students have an opportunity to successfully register to vote before their first day of classes. Looking forward, we are committed to refining and perfecting our model by summer 2021 to include all graduate and professional students as well.
What advice do you have for other colleges and universities trying to institutionalize voter registration in orientation?
If you have an opportunity to institutionalize voter registration as part of an orienting experience for your new students, do it. While it might not necessarily be new student orientation, consider other bottlenecks that might exist at your institution that would allow for high percentages of engagement. Such practices ensure each student has an opportunity to register to vote before their first day of classes and allow you to shift your energy and resources throughout the rest of the year from registration to education and turnout. It also instills in students that their right to vote is valued and a part of the campus culture for students to register and, ultimately, to vote.
To get started, think about the different ways in which you might be able implement an institutionalized model for voter registration. From there, identify the different campus partners who might need to be involved in your practice, and get them together as soon as possible. Your campus partners are key to your success, so make sure they not only feel, but are valued as part of your process.
Now that you have achieved this promising practice, what opportunities will the Andrew Goodman Campus Team at Stony Brook explore next to advance civic engagement on your campus?
Since we are able to shift our energy and resources away from voter registration outside of summer and winter new student orientation experiences, our students are able to focus largely on voter education and turnout throughout the rest of the year. They are constantly listening to students about what they need to be more engaged in their communities and the issues affecting them, and our students respond accordingly with intentional programmatic and outreach efforts.
We are also working hard to institutionalize year-round civic learning and democratic engagement as part of the student experience, not just seasonally when elections happen. Being engaged in your community is more than just about choosing the right candidates for elected office. And our students are doing what they can to make that cultural shift happen here at Stony Brook University.
Through institutionalizing voter registration in new student orientation and beyond, the Andrew Goodman Campus Team at Stony Brook University not only freed up time for other civic and voter engagement initiatives, but also, and significantly, guaranteed that students would have the chance to be involved in our democracy from day one on campus and onward. In forthcoming posts in this series, we’ll explore further possibilities for institutionalization, including both in person and online options.
About The Authors
Margaret Sasser is AGF’s Program and Communications Manager. Margaret is passionate about civil rights issues and helping students to become active and engaged members of their communities.
Steven Adelson is Coordinator of the Center for Civic Justice in the Department of Student Community Development at Stony Brook University. Steven is a two-time alumnus of Stony Brook University: Bachelor of Arts in Political Science (2015) and Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration (2017).