Maryland Ambassadors Testify in Support of 2020 Student Voter Empowerment Act
Year-round and across the country, Andrew Goodman Ambassadors demonstrate their passion for voting rights. Student leaders leap at opportunities to advocate for student voting rights at the state and national levels by voicing their stances on proposed bills. In early 2020, three Maryland-based Ambassadors eagerly accepted the chance to do just that—to support a voting rights bill in the Maryland legislature.
Beginning in December 2019, colleges, universities, and state and national organizations partnered with Maryland PIRG to form a coalition to advocate for the Student Voter Empowerment Act (SVEA). If passed, the bill would require Maryland public universities to include a voter registration link on their websites that students use to register for classes. Additionally, the bill would require public universities with a student population exceeding 4,500 students and no polling location within a half-mile of the campus to have an on-campus polling location. Finally, the bill would require public universities to name a staff member to be a “Student Voting Coordinator” to create a voting plan and support students in voter and civic engagement on campus.
In short, this bill would strengthen student voter participation by providing voting resources, information, and making voter registration and voting more accessible. To date, the Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere program has successfully led efforts in all of the bill’s requirements. For example, each Andrew Goodman Campus Team includes a Campus Champion, our term for a university staff or faculty member who works with Ambassadors to create and maintain a campus-wide voter and civic engagement plan. Our Campus Teams have also successfully advocated for on-campus polling sites. Plus, AGF has supported Campus Teams, like the one at Georgetown University, in adding a voter registration portal to their university’s class registration homepage. Because Andrew Goodman Ambassadors are familiar with these promising practices and have experienced their positive impact firsthand, they were ready to support implementing them at a state-wide level.
For the bill’s committee hearings, Maryland Andrew Goodman Ambassadors Willow Goode of University of Baltimore (UB) and Sophie Bertrand and Jonathan Townes of Towson University submitted written testimony in favor of the Student Voter Empowerment Act. Check out their official written testimony below.
Willow Goode, University of Baltimore Andrew Goodman Ambassador
“[The University of Baltimore] shows its commitment to this goal by providing students easy access to voter registration links in our UB Portal and offering our ubalt.edu/vote website that has clear and direct links, along with videos, to help guide students through the voter registration process. Having easy access to these tools makes the registration and voting process much more seamless for me and many other students here at UB. In addition, I want to make sure that it is not just UB students who have access to these tools, but all Maryland college students.”
Sophie Bertrand, Towson University Andrew Goodman Ambassador
“The passage of this bill would encourage the younger voting bloc to turnout by facilitating the formation of healthy habits of democratic engagement, thus producing youth who are more likely to become life-long voters. Additionally, the demonstrated support of officeholders and government officials would not only greatly emphasize the significance of regular democratic engagement to younger demographics, but would also indicate concern for issues young voters care about and encourage their engagement with representatives that attempt to connect with them.”
Jonathan Townes, Towson University Andrew Goodman Ambassador
“Voting serves as a building block to a more active civic life. Numerous studies have illustrated that voting is habit-forming, and young people who vote are more likely to become life-long voters. Universities serve to prepare us for life in the real world and as such, it is vital for the survival of our republic that we have as many individuals informed and participating in the electoral process as possible. Our state should take this opportunity to step up and be a national leader in the defense of our democracy. We now have the opportunity to make voting easier for all university students in Maryland. This is something that cannot wait another second.”
Additionally, Ambassador Jonathan Townes agreed to testify in person in front of Maryland’s State Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. He prepared a condensed testimony that he presented to the Committee.
Despite Ambassadors and coalition partners’ efforts, the 2020 Student Voter Empowerment Act did not pass the Maryland State Senate. This result was met with great disappointment from The Andrew Goodman Foundation and our Maryland Campus Teams. Easy accessibility to voter registration information, polling locations, and institutional leadership would have created campus cultures that value voter engagement across the state of Maryland. It may take years to secure support from elected officials and see the fruits of this legislative advocacy. Unfortunately, Maryland student voters will not reap the benefits of this bill—yet.
Regardless, the Ambassadors’ leadership shows their ability to chip away at barriers standing in the way of students having an equal opportunity to cast their ballots. The more Ambassadors and Campus Teams advocate for or against local, state, and national policies, the stronger their influence grows. AGF will continue to collaborate with these Maryland Campus Teams in their advocacy efforts to pass the Student Voter Empowerment Act in the future.
About the Author
DJ Dreeland is the Communications and Development Assistant at The Andrew Goodman Foundation. While pursuing her Bachelor of Social Work degree from Centenary University, DJ discovered a passion for civic engagement through student-led groups and community outreach positions. She expanded her skills in stakeholder engagement, marketing, and organizational leadership by earning her Master of Social Work degree from Rutgers University. Prior to her AGF position, DJ worked at nourish.NJ as a Volunteer & Market Coordinator. She led congregational, community and corporate volunteers in serving meals and organizing weekly Free Farmers Markets.