Case Studies from the Andrew Goodman Network
An on-campus polling place is a powerful symbol of an institutional commitment to student voting by campus and local election officials, as well as a proven mechanism that increases students’ access to the ballot box. Central on-campus polling places provide students, a population with unique needs, key accessibility, while also benefiting the disabled community and the wider college community. Research demonstrates that greater access to on-campus polling locations correlates with increased student voter turnout.
Through our Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere program, The Andrew Goodman Foundation (AGF) has extensive experience and expertise in coaching and assisting students in organizing and advocating to bring polling places to campus. We have distilled our learning into one powerful resource, our Toolkit: Securing On-Campus Polling Places, so that students everywhere can work toward increasing accessibility to the ballot box on their campuses. Below, we are sharing case studies from the Andrew Goodman Network that illustrate not only the importance of on-campus polling places, but also how to secure and maintain them.
Georgia State University
Original campus story by Evan Wayne Malbrough, former Andrew Goodman Ambassador and AGF summer intern, Georgia State University
Updates by Emma Strother, based on an interview with Evan Malbrough, March 15, 2022
Georgia State University (GSU) is one of the largest universities in the state of Georgia with its largest campus located in the middle of downtown Atlanta. The university has six campuses in three different counties and serves 55,000 students in total. GSU’s Atlanta campus is a few blocks away from the Georgia State Capitol, Atlanta City Hall, and the Fulton County Government Center.
In 2016, Evan Malbrough was a GSU freshman music major who spent his weekends campaigning for local candidates. He helped found Vote Everywhere GSU ‒ a campus coalition of student voting advocates ‒ to tackle the deep disillusionment he heard from many first-time voters who did not see their values reflected in government in 2016. With support from the Andrew Goodman Foundation, Evan and his peers built one of the most impactful student voter empowerment programs in the country by 2020.
At first, Vote Everywhere GSU focused on voter registration and access to the polls. It was sometimes an uphill battle. Evan would walk from campus to the Georgia State Capitol to personally submit students’ paper voter registration forms. Then Stacey Abrams’ 2018 gubernatorial race sparked the rise of non-partisan voting rights groups on campus, including the NAACP, Fair Fight, and Black Voters Matter. With voter registration well-supported, Vote Everywhere GSU could take the next step and engage students in voting rights year-round. Evan shared that learning from the Andrew Goodman Foundation was key to this strategic shift. “Having relationships with municipalities goes a long way. AGF teaches you the basics and helps build those relationships.”
The team visited Introduction to American Government classes, and convinced professors to give their students extra credit if they either registered to vote, wrote a paper about why they would not vote, or for international students, listed the officials who governed their home. They lobbied the administration to purchase TurboVote, an app for voter registration, absentee ballot requests, and election reminders. They ramped up National Voter Registration Day events, and leveraged The Great Debate ‒ an annual GSU debate between College Democrats and College Republicans ‒ to invite local election officials to campus and win grants for non-partisan voter engagement.
In 2019, Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts announced his goal to increase youth civic participation. In July, he agreed to meet with Evan and a small group of GSU students who pitched their idea for a poll worker pipeline on campus and a student-run precinct. At the time, Fulton County used a mobile precinct to travel between public colleges, but it was stretched thin. Evan knew that he “needed to find the most qualified students imaginable, just to get a foot in the door.” Ultimately, the group included the GSU Student President, a Congressional Black Caucus intern, an ACLU intern, a career military medical school student, and an intern in the UK House of Lords.
In “Our Democracy Depends On It: Why Young People Should Consider Becoming Poll Workers” Evan wrote about the need for young poll workers. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission reports that most poll workers who worked in the 2016 general election were between the ages of 53 and 70. The Commission also reports that 65 percent of jurisdictions reported that it was “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult” to find and hire poll workers. To fill this need, Vote Everywhere GSU pitched to Commissioner Pitts they would create a cohort of students to add to the ranks of poll workers.
By the time Fulton County and the GSU administration approved this plan, GSU’s Atlanta campus had served as an early voting “outreach” polling location for three election cycles. Being an “outreach” location meant that it was not open the entire three weeks of early voting, but rather for two-to-three days as a way to expand access to student voters. GSU’s outreach location was usually busy due to its placement in the center of the city. For the 2016 and 2018 general elections, it was staffed by poll workers trained by the Fulton County Election Office.
In 2019-20, eight GSU students went through the early voting training process to become certified registrars and poll workers. This program was the first of its kind in Georgia, and it took eight months to set up. The State had just signed a contract with Dominion Voting to overhaul its election system. It was February 2020 by the time students had access to Dominion voting machine training. They had to miss classes for training and in order to run the precinct.
In March 2020, the students set up the polling location in GSU’s ballroom and staffed it for two full days. The location served 420 people who were mostly students. Vote Everywhere GSU also set up a voter information table outside the location to give out-of-county students vital information on how to cast a ballot. The precinct closed on schedule, and just three days later GSU shut down due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Evan reflected, “if it had been scheduled one week later, it would not have happened at all.”
After the success of the polling location, Evan published The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Building a Youth Poll Worker Project with The Andrew Goodman Foundation and Democracy Works. The comprehensive guide takes student advocates step-by-step through the process of opening and staffing their own polling locations. While this guide was circulating, Evan took his expertise on the road. GSU students were some of the last poll workers to be trained on Dominion machines before the Covid-19 lockdown, and Evan used this knowledge to run precincts across Fulton County after graduation. It was through this experience that the need for youth poll workers really hit home.
At one precinct, ethernet cords malfunctioned minutes before voting started, and Evan was forced to run the entire precinct from a WiFi hotspot on his cellphone. They were so understaffed with so many voters that staff arrived at 5:00 am and did not leave until 2:00 am. Evan knew they needed more early voting precincts, staff, and youth leaders, so he launched the Georgia Youth Poll Worker Project. The nonprofit organization started as an Instagram campaign to help recruit and train young poll workers across the State. The project amplified how pollworking can meet young people’s economic needs, and “dug its heels into the cultural organizing space,” making the case that youth are crucial to the future of democracy.
Now a Fellow with the ACLU of Georgia and a Board Member of the Andrew Goodman Foundation, Evan continues to work at the forefront of youth political and civic empowerment.
More Case Studies Coming Soon from the Andrew Goodman Network!
In 2017, Megan Newsome, an Andrew Goodman Ambassador at the University of Florida, identified an issue: The Secretary of State’s wrongful interpretation of a statute meant that the placement of early voting sites on campuses across Florida was prohibited. She wrote an op-ed in The Gainesville Sun, arguing why on-campus early voting sites were so desperately needed, that catalyzed a successful campaign and litigation for on-campus early voting sites — on her campus and beyond — ahead of the 2018 Midterm Elections. This report evaluates the impact of the 12 on-campus early voting sites across Florida, and this toolkit offers guidance on how to write an op-ed, such as one like Megan’s.
In addition to the grassroots efforts of Andrew Goodman Ambassadors to secure on-campus polling locations via organizing and advocacy, The Andrew Goodman Foundation has also brought an on-campus polling station to Bard College via successful student-led litigation. Plus, AGF celebrated a statewide legislative victory in New York, which was the direct result of lawsuits filed by AGF and Bard College in 2020 and 2021 that brought the polling place to Bard’s campus, coupled by the advocacy efforts of a statewide coalition. Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law new legislation that mandates polling places on college campuses with 300 or more registered students or at a nearby site proposed by the college and that prevents the gerrymandering of college campuses.
The Andrew Goodman Foundation developed these case studies from the Andrew Goodman Network with the support of Yael Bromberg, Esq., a constitutional rights attorney and AGF’s Special Counsel & Strategic Advisor to the President/CEO, and Rev. Prof. Cornell William Brooks and The Harvard Kennedy School’s William Trotter Collaborative for Social Justice.