Voting is a privilege that is historically limited, manipulated and skewed by lawmakers worldwide. However, those with the right to vote often take the freedom for granted, as evident in low voter participation amongst USF students. The National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement reports that in the 2014 midterm election, only 19.6 percent of USF student registered voters showed up to the polls. Comparatively, 33.4 percent of all college students voted in the same election. One program at USF is seeking to change USF’s voter turnout for the better.
David Donahue, director of the McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good, addressed the low USF student voter turnout and announced the USF Votes initiative in an August blog post. For this project, the McCarthy Center partnered with the Andrew Goodman Foundation to register as many eligible student voters as possible.
On move-in day, the USF Votes Initiative, with the help of 20 student volunteers, helped eligible freshmen register to vote. Volunteers registered voters alongside check-in tables where new students picked up orientation materials. Because of this set-up, every freshman on move-in day was offered the chance to register to vote. “When you register at student move-in day […] it sends a different message about what this institution values,” said Donahue.
The McCarthy Center’s Community Engaged Learning Program Manager, Angeline Vuong, is working with Donahue to increase student voter turnout. “That [report] was disappointing, especially being in San Francisco, a progressive and politically left-leaning city,” says Vuong.
USF Votes’ partner, the Andrew Goodman Foundation, teams up with other American universities to raise voter education and participation. The McCarthy Center appointed two student ambassadors who travelled to the Andrew Goodman headquarters in New York for training. The student ambassadors will work with ASUSF and other student-run groups on campus to recruit others to register to vote. Senior Abree Dominguez was one of the student ambassadors who went to the foundation’s training. “I was motivated to join the USF Votes project because of the importance that voting is on a democratic society. Voting in the United States should be a right to all people,” said Dominguez.
The USF Votes team will spend the fall semester registering students to vote through tabling events, while the spring semester will be focused on voter education. “Next spring, there will be more panel conversations with experts in the field. It’ll be more of an intimate setting for students to have conversations,” said Vuong. USF Votes will offer panels and informational sessions for students to become informed about the issues and measures on their ballots. The next chance to register with USF Votes will happen on National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 26 during dead hour in the cafeteria.