Founding Fifteen Campus Connections: Cornell University


This year, AGF is celebrating ten years of impact with the Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere Program. One of “Founding Fifteen” campuses, the Campus Team at Cornell University reflected on the past ten years and their hopes for the future of civic engagement on the campus in Ithaca, New York.

Cornell University has been an Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere campus since the program began back in 2014! What barriers to voting existed on campus prior to 2014?

One of the largest barriers to voting on Cornell’s campus prior to 2014 was the lack of a consistent on-campus polling site. In the past, Cornell students have had to travel up to 20 minutes by bus, literally crossing two gorges to do so, to get to polling sites while managing to attend classes – which made it incredibly difficult to vote in person. NSLVE data from 2014 for Cornell revealed that there were 8,963 students registered to vote and only 17% of those registered actually voted.

From what you know of how things were in 2014, when it comes to voting and civic engagement on campus, what are some of the most noticeable changes?

The most prominent change has been the addition of an on-campus polling site. Now, Cornell students who live on-campus are able to vote in-person on West Campus at Alice Cook House. The ability to vote in person has allowed for greater excitement, awareness, and ease of voting for students. Students who are not eligible to vote at Alice Cook House have also seen an increase in support to reach other polling sites from various community organizations. Student Assembly elections have also had increases in participation rates of roughly 30% depending on the year and specific race. For example, Spring 2021 saw a 33% increase in voter turnout amongst upperclassmen and Fall 2021 saw a 31% increase in voter turnout amongst freshmen and transfers. We’ve seen an increase in administrative support, including the creation of, which Cornell Votes helped to curate. Further administrative relationships include close work with University Relations and Student & Campus Life.

How has the general campus’ perception of voting and civic engagement evolved since 2014?

Cornell’s general campus’ perception has changed dramatically since 2014. We’ve seen amazing support from all types of students, faculty, and staff. For example, we worked on a 100% student athlete registration pledge in 2020 due to the partnered work of coaches and Cornell Votes. We worked on a similar pledge for 100% voter registration in Cornell’s social Greek life system. Students are knowledgeable and caring about elections, and are clearly looking for ways to register to vote and learn more about elections. Faculty are also becoming more civically involved, and we’ve had professors reach out to us about how to best disseminate information across campus.

How has your Campus Team reflected on the legacy of Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Freedom Summer 1964 over these ten years?

As a campus partner of the Andrew Goodman Foundation, Cornell Votes reviews the story of Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney, and Michael Schwerner during the Freedom Summer of 1964 regularly. In particular, Andrew’s specific interest in joining Freedom Summer to register Black Americans to vote in Mississippi has resonated with Cornell Votes as we take constant steps to reevaluate and plan on how to best reach all Cornell students equitably. Equitable access looks different based on student identities, history, and campus involvement. Cornell Votes has a responsibility to ensure that we are representing the student body and providing voting information equitably while considering socioeconomic, racial, religious, gender, age, etc. We’ve also reflected on the several alumni connections between Cornell University and the Goodman and Schwerner families. In fact, there is a stained glass memorial for all three men in Sage Chapel to honor their work.

What are some ways that the Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere program has supported your efforts on campus to increase voter and civic engagement?

The Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere program has been absolutely instrumental to Cornell Votes’s success. In addition to financial support, we receive individualized support and guidance to help us with planning and organizing various events and efforts. Additionally, the promotional and informational materials ranging from posters to stickers to t-shirts have helped us bring awareness to civic engagement and voting on campus. AGF’s financial support has allowed us to host events like our annual Civic Celebration, which is attended by Cornell students, faculty, and administrators. We also regularly direct students to AGF’s online resources, including the Student Voting Portal and Voter Registration Tool.

What are your hopes and dreams for what civic engagement will look like on campus ten years from now?

We have a three-fold goal for 10 years from now. The first part starts with on-campus elections – specifically our Student Assembly. We’d love to see a 50% voter turnout rate across all Student Assembly elections by 2034. Currently, the turnout rate fluctuates from 10-30% depending on the election type and timing. The second part regards actual voter registration on campus. We would love to see a 100% voter registration rate but believe that a 90% registration rate by 2034 is a reasonable expectation based on our 2020 NSLVE registration data of 82%. The third part is the actual election participation. Providing up-to-date information is key on college campuses for voting, especially because a majority of Cornell students vote out of state. In terms of those who voted, Cornell had a 66% voting rate in 2020, a 19% increase from 2016, and the first time Cornell passed the national average. Based on this, we would like to see a voting rate of 75% by 2034.

What are the team’s main goals to increase and support voter engagement and turnout in 2024?

Cornell Votes is currently working to build lasting relationships with other organizations on campus. We’re in the process of finalizing quantitative goals, including the potential to focus on a 100% voter registration rate among student-athletes on campus. Additionally, we’re trying to work with at least one of every type of club (social Greek life, pre-professional Greek life, general pre-professional, political, social justice, art, etc.). On campus, we’re working with our Student Assembly to offer in-person voting booths in various high-traffic parts of campus, which should increase the voting turnout for campus elections.

Stay tuned as we continue our Campus Connections series, featuring each of our Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere Campus Teams, the impact made on campus, and how they are living the legacy during this pivotal point in our nation’s history.