OGDEN — Every presidential election year, voter registration drives pop up on college campuses across the country. In the midst of a pandemic and the tumultuous 2020 election cycle, Weber State University has registered a record number of student voters.
Americans ages 18 to 29 consistently have the lowest voter turnout in presidential elections.
In 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 46.1% of the youngest group of eligible voters participated. Citizens ages 30 to 44 voted at a rate of 58.7%, 45- to 64-year-olds came out at a rate of 66.6% and the group with the highest turnout was those who were 65 years and older at 70.9%.
“We are a huge voter bloc,” said Kaylei Morris, a junior in political science at Weber State. “I feel like many students are just so busy with school and these (voting) deadlines can pass really fast.”
Morris is one of the students leading efforts to increase voter turnout on campus. Along with other students involved with the American Democracy Project, a civic engagement initiative of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and The New York Times, she is helping organize the school’s participation in the Utah Campus Cup.
Sponsored by the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office, the competition pits Utah’s higher education institutions against each other to see which will have the highest rates of voter registration and participation.
As of Friday, Weber State was on top.
“Our numbers are huge for voter registration,” said Leah Murray, a political science professor and the advisor for the American Democracy Project on campus. “Bigger than we’ve ever had before.”
On Friday, the last day to register to vote in the state, Murray tallied a total of 1,129 students who had registered as new voters or updated their voting records through their efforts. This amounts to about 3.8% of the school’s 29,596-person student body.
Murray said she believes the university’s success can be attributed to a number of factors. One of the most noticeable differences of this year from previous years, though, is the school’s collection method.
Traditionally, students working to gather voter registrations will set up a table at a central part of campus. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the campaign had to be moved entirely online.
“We were told we could not do any face-to-face voter registration. We couldn’t have a table, we couldn’t be in the union building,” Murray said.
Instead, Weber State purchased an online voter registration platform called TurboVote, which allows individuals and organizations to share links which direct the recipient through a streamlined registration process.
Through link sharing, Murray said, the whole university was able to get involved.
Weber State set up a Political Engagement Coalition which allowed students, faculty and staff from all areas of campus to get involved in recruiting students to register to vote.
The athletics department made a video promoting voting, and multiple teams accomplished 100% registration, Murray said. The school’s Student Involvement and Leadership Office disbursed additional funds to clubs and organizations that registered all members to vote, reported Weber State’s student newspaper, The Signpost.
“One of our big efforts was partnering across campus with people who know the students,” Murray said. “It kind of proved what we know about behavior, where if someone you know asks you to do something, you’re more likely to do it.”
In October, Murray said, the focus has pivoted from registration to voter education and encouraging students to turn in their ballots or vote in-person on Election Day.
Weber State has one of Weber County’s 20 24-hour drop boxes, located at the junction of the union building, library and bell tower. Murray said the drop box has been affectionately named “Waldo,” after the school’s mascot.
“We are really lucky to have a ballot box on campus,” Morris said.
So far, according to Murray, the county has retrieved more than 90 ballots from the location. She said it’s encouraging to see such high numbers as students get involved and take an interest in politics and the government.
“It is very important that students get involved in the electoral process because they are citizens of this country,” Murray said. “And the way we make sure the government does what we want it to do is vote.”
Pointing to the topics addressed in the Thursday night presidential debate, Murray said politicians don’t give as much attention to the issues young people care most about because of the historically low voter turnout.
In 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the group of people ages 18 to 29 are the only bloc that saw an increase in participation. Murray anticipates that trend will continue this year as she compared the election to the Super Bowl for the rising generation.
“This is a generation that cares about stuff, that cares about politics,” she said. “This is a really intense election. For my youngest students who have never voted before, what a cool election to be involved in.”