Student Stories

Collaboration Increases Voting Access at University of Central Arkansas

Pictured Above: University of Central Arkansas campus. [CC: Kangabloo Creative]

Nicknamed the “City of Colleges,” Conway, Arkansas is full of young talent, young professionals, and young voters. According to the 2016 census, the city had a total population of 65,000 residents. More than 10,000 of them reside at University of Central Arkansas (UCA), one of Vote Everywhere’s newest partner campuses. Unfortunately, in January 2018, the Faulkner County Election Commission voted to close the on-campus polling site at the university, creating an obstacle for over 15% of the city’s potential voters. However, just in time for the Fall 2018 elections, the campus community will be celebrating their successful efforts to reinstate the campus polling site.

Due to concerns of public accessibility, lack of reliable and trained poll workers, and the difficulty of securing voting machines on campus, the Faulkner County Election Commission voted at the beginning of the year to remove the UCA polling site, along with three other sites in rural areas of the county.

Following the decision, University President Houston Davis and other campus administrators, the Student Government Association, the Vote Everywhere team and a coalition of politically engaged student organizations all leaped into action. President Davis scheduled meetings between local elected officials and university supporters to understand the Election Commission’s reasons for removing the polling site. As students expressed interest and commitment to reinstating the polling site, he knew there was a strong case to move forward. UCA Vote Everywhere Ambassador Karlie Galarza, says, “He’s a president very much in tune with student wants and needs. Without us coming together to show him our commitment, he might not have understood how much it meant to us. We are incredibly grateful our administration fought with us.”

Pictured Above: University of Central Arkansas Vote Everywhere Ambassadors Corban Gotcher and Karlie Galarza with Campus Champion Leslie Graybeal

The UCA Vote Everywhere team ensured there was space for other student voices to be amplified throughout the process and convened a coalition of student organizations, faculty, and administrators a few days after learning of the election commission’s decision. As campus administration worked with local elected officials, this group developed contingency plans and shared ideas for educating on-campus voters about the voting process and requirements prior to the midterm election. For example, the Student Government Association drafted a resolution and gathered letters of support from student-led groups to present to the Election Commission. According to Program Manager Taryn Dwyer, “The team took the initiative in facilitating collaboration across campus, among students and faculty alike. Now, because of their leadership, members of the UCA community know that Vote Everywhere is a valuable resource on campus.”

Of the recent achievement, Lesley Graybeal, Vote Everywhere Campus Champion, states, “The way this panned out was a reminder of the importance of both grassroots organizing and a supportive administration in making sustainable progress in civic engagement in higher education.”

The UCA story demonstrates how the Vote Everywhere model bridges the gap between grassroots civic engagement and the administration of higher education institutions. By working together, campuses can create change for young people.


About the Author

Kevin Hurtado is the Communications and Development Associate at Andrew Goodman Foundation. He graduated from Ramapo College of New Jersey with a Bachelor’s in International Studies and a minor in Human Rights and Genocide. Previously, Kevin worked as an Executive Assistant and Office Manager at Newark Charter School Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting educational equity in the city of Newark.