Access to the Ballot: Geaux Vote Wins On-Campus Voting for LSU Students
“A couple members of the community actually stood up and praised the work that we were doing with Vote Everywhere [by] saying that they’re excited to see young people getting involved in the local community and local government,” said Zoë Williamson, an Andrew Goodman Ambassador at Louisiana State University (LSU).
This is the well-deserved response that she and the Andrew Goodman Vote Everywhere campus team at LSU, locally known as Geaux Vote, received after testifying in front of the East Baton Rouge Metro Council in March about creating one consolidated on-campus voting location for LSU. Not only did the Geaux Vote team garner praise from their community members, but they also elicited a unanimous vote from the City Council to secure on-campus voting for an additional 3,000 LSU students. In the matter of a meeting, the council’s vote sealed a triumphant victory for Geaux Vote, LSU, and students’ voting access—but this win had been years in the making.
In 2016, then Ambassadors Madison Melancon, Kaylin Parker, and Valencia Richardson campaigned to remove another barrier to LSU students’ voting access—ineligible voter IDs. But the Ambassadors always imagined that students would be able to use their newly eligible student IDs to vote on campus. At that time and until the unanimous City Council vote this year, LSU students had been divided into two voting precincts, one which voted about a mile and a half off campus in a low-income neighborhood and one which voted at an on-campus location. To make matters more complicated, the two precincts were also each in a different state representative’s district.
Williamson, who acted as Geaux Vote’s President during the 2018-2019 academic year, noticed that students who lived on the east side of campus and voted on campus were Honors and Greek students and mostly white. “The students who were having to vote [off campus] in the low-income neighborhood were increasingly students of color,” Williamson said. When registering her fellow students to vote, she resented telling two friends standing side by side that each would have to cast a ballot at a different voting location. According to Williamson, this “discouraged them because they wanted to vote together [because] voting is a social thing.”
Understanding that she needed to do something, Williamson took up the unfinished work of creating one consolidated on-campus voting location. She and the Geaux Vote team began meeting with the East Baton Rouge Metro Council and the Registrar of Voters to brainstorm solutions. She realized that, option one, to consolidate the two precincts, would not be possible, as they span two state representatives’ districts. Option two, to move the off-campus location onto campus, also would not work, as it would severely inconvenience the neighborhood residents and force them to vote on LSU’s campus.
Williamson recollects that “the Registrar of Voters told us that there was no way to make this happen, that the people in the neighborhood would protest it, that the state representatives would protest it.” In spite of this challenge, Len Apcar, LSU’s Andrew Goodman Campus Champion, is certain that “the steady and reliable support, resources and training of the Andrew Goodman Foundation clearly upheld the students through years of improving student voter accessibility on campus.”
Determined, Geaux Vote moved on to option three and to figure out “the best way to redraw these precincts so that everyone had the same amount of access to the ballot,” in Williamson’s words. They developed a solution in which the line of a precinct north of campus would be extended south three blocks in order to incorporate neighborhood voters who had been in a precinct with LSU students. In this solution, the off-campus precinct would now only contain LSU students and would be free to be moved onto campus, joining the on-campus precinct, without displacing any neighborhood voters. This solution would enable both precincts of LSU students to vote at one on-campus location.
The East Baton Rouge Metro Council’s vote was the final hurdle the Geaux Vote team needed to overcome to implement this solution. And in March 2019, after years of Geaux Vote members trying to win a consolidated on-campus voting location, they did it. Reacting to their accomplishment, Apcar said that “only students took the initiative to do this work, and they could not have accomplished so much without the Goodman Foundation playing a hugely supportive role.”
Council members voted unanimously to pass an ordinance which will order the Registrar of Voters to redraw the precincts in January 2021, after a two-year redistricting freeze is over. Because of Williamson and the entire Geaux Vote team, all LSU students now have increased access to the ballot and, in 2021, will be able to begin voting on campus—together.
About The Author
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.