Campaign to the Polls: How Young Voters Overcame Obstacles and Took Their Power Back
The 2020 Election was different than any in recent history. Millennials and Gen Zers accounted for 37 percent of the eligible electorate, a major share! At The Andrew Goodman Foundation (AGF), we knew that if they harnessed their collective power, they were positioned to influence the outcome. But major threats—like COVID-19, civil unrest, doubt and disinformation, and voter suppression—aimed to upset young people’s potential impact.
That’s why the Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere program created a deliberate Campaign to the Polls, designed to engage, educate, inspire, and activate student voters, especially in battleground states like Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin. In these battleground states, election outcomes can be—and were—determined by such slim margins as the population of a single campus. Through intensive coaching and individualized support for our Andrew Goodman Campus Teams, leveraging innovative digital and socially-distant organizing tools, and other strategic interventions, AGF combatted the obstacles of 2020’s complex student voting landscape so that young voters could achieve the full power of their collective vote.
Take Your Power Back Weekend | August 1-2, 2020
“Take Your Power Back Weekend,” the timely theme of the first-ever virtual and sixth annual National Civic Leadership Training Summit, informed and inspired young voters with educational sessions, performances, and celebrity star power, like that of host Amber Riley. Open not just to Andrew Goodman Ambassadors but also to the general public for the first time ever, Take Your Power Back Weekend reached 10,000 total participants!
National HBCU and Alabama Voting Summits | September 10-12, 2020
Alongside Campus Vote Project and the Student Learn Students Vote (SLSV) Coalition, AGF and Alabama A&M University proudly convened the first-ever National HBCU Voting Summit. The virtual conference engaged 150 participants from over 30 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to prepare students to vote in 2020. SLSV, AGF, and the University of Alabama also convened the virtual Alabama Voting Summit, which brought together six institutions and 54 participants from across the state.
National Civic Holidays | September 1-November 2, 2020
AGF and the Andrew Goodman Network also organized around many civic holidays, including National Poll Worker Recruitment Day, Constitution Day, National Black Voter Day, National Voter Registration Day (NVRD), National Voter Education Week, Vote Early Day, and Election Hero Day. Through these holidays, we promoted civic activities like voter registration and early voting, as well as celebrated democracy. On National Voter Registration Day alone, the network registered 2,849 voters!
National and Wisconsin Couch Parties | October 20, 2020 & October 29, 2020
To get out the vote among young voters, AGF hosted couch parties for the entire Andrew Goodman Network and Andrew Goodman Campuses in Wisconsin. At the couch parties, Ambassadors used the app Outvote to send scripted GOTV texts to their friends, family, and peers. Through these digital, relational organizing events, Ambassadors mobilized more than 600 student voters!
Behind the scenes of the Campaign to the Polls, the Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere program was also growing via an ambitious expansion plan. Driven by our commitment to the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion, the plan aimed to recruit additional People of Color Serving Institutions, particularly HBCUs, and campuses in battleground states. Every campus in the Andrew Goodman Network, including newly recruited ones, had free access to my.VoteEverywhere, our one-stop-shop for election and voter information.
Relaunched with a fresh design and added functionality, my.VoteEverywhere helped students take essential actions to vote and make sure their votes counted. With new tools like Track My Ballot and Cure My Ballot, students could find out whether their vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots were received and accepted. If their VBM ballots were rejected due to a signature issue, they had the opportunity to correct it through our unique ballot curing tool.
By Election Day, Ambassadors in the Andrew Goodman Network and young voters across the country, outperforming previous early voting, had already been taking their power back and making their voices heard. Plus, 11 Ambassadors, one Puffin Democracy Fellow, and one AGF staff member stepped up to serve as poll workers on Election Day and fill the national poll worker shortage that had been caused by COVID-19.
Though the challenges were formidable, the Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere program carved a strategic path forward through its multi-pronged Campaign to the Polls. Thanks to the ingenuity and resiliency of AGF and our Andrew Goodman Network, we persevered to achieve these remarkable network-wide results:
- 1,012 virtual and in-person events hosted
- 10,646 individuals registered to vote
- 97,704 students engaged
- 6,585 absentee ballots requested
- 3,213 individuals pledged to vote
- 2,729 individuals signed up as poll workers
- 215,992 social media engagements
Over the course of the Fall 2020 semester, Ambassadors organized tirelessly to register and educate voters, increase access to the ballot, and get out the youth vote. Young voters took their power back at the polls, and we have our Andrew Goodman Network to thank for enormous efforts like these this election season:
Voter Registration & Institutionalization
- Ambassadors at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside hosted a voter registration drive-thru on National Voter Registration Day. Staying socially distanced, they helped students register and check their registration via iPads.
- For National Black Voter Day, Baylor University Ambassadors collaborated with the campus NAACP chapter to organize a voter registration drive. Following safety protocols, they also registered students in conjunction with the National Pan Hellenic Council.
- On National Voter Registration Day, Miami University Ambassadors tabled in person and hosted a virtual voter registration drive, coordinated safe voter registration drop-offs to 60 houses, and registered voters at a Black Lives Matter protest.
Civic & Voter Education
- University of Wisconsin-Madison Ambassadors and the BadgersVote Coalition created Pod-Cast Your Vote, a podcast that aims to increase voter awareness and engagement. In Fall 2020, the podcast produced 16 episodes and had 500 listeners.
- University of Wisconsin – Platteville hosted a town hall on Zoom with candidates seeking office in the Wisconsin State Assembly and the U.S. House of Representatives. Students were able to submit topics for discussion beforehand and 130 attended the virtual event.
- On Election Day, Ambassadors at Bowling Green State University staffed their on-campus polling location. By having a presence there, Ambassadors were able to problem solve with students who had issues on Election Day.
- At Tennessee State University, an Ambassador organized a bus trip, with funding from AGF and Rolls to the Polls, so that first-time student voters could cast their ballots in person and prevent any issues that could have arisen from voting absentee, a new state allowance for first-time voters.
- To help students vote successfully with minimal confusion, Case Western Reserve University Ambassadors escorted students to the polls via public transit.
- Spelman College Ambassadors used Rolls to the Polls funding to purchase Lyft and Uber rides for about 100 students on Election Day. These rides helped students get from campus to their assigned polling location safely.
Youth Voting Advocacy
- When the University of Alabama (UA) issued student IDs digitally due to COVID-19, Ambassadors contacted the university and Secretary of State to ensure they would be recognized as valid voter IDs. Now all digital student IDs, from UA and beyond, are accepted!
- Ambassadors at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor worked with the City Clerk’s Office to bring an easily accessible satellite office to campus! There, students were able to register to vote and request absentee ballots.
- Along with Bard College President and students, including an Ambassador, AGF filed a lawsuit against the Dutchess County Board of Elections, arguing that their polling site was inaccessible and unsafe. Our legal victory brought a polling site to Bard’s campus for Election Day!
We know that when young voters have more access to the ballot and fewer obstacles, they are more likely to vote, and our network-wide results and other national data demonstrate just that. As of the latest count on November 18, CIRCLE calculates that 52-55 percent of voting-eligible young people (ages 18-29) cast a ballot in the 2020 General Election, up from 42-44 percent in 2016. What’s more, CIRCLE projects that the total youth vote may rise even higher once all votes are counted.
While 2020 was a difficult year for all of us, we couldn’t be prouder of how AGF, young voters, and generous supporters everywhere rose to the occasion. We are particularly grateful for our own donor activists who fueled our work and closed our gap, created by rapid-response programming to meet the needs of this year, with their financial support. For our civic and voter engagement, AGF received the 2020 SLSV Award for Contributing to an Equitable Democracy from the SLSV Coalition. But we’re not resting on our laurels. At AGF, we will continue to fight until our vision of a just democracy and sustainable future is a lasting reality.
About The Author
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.