Get Out the Vote: UB Students Come Out on Top in ALL IN Voting Challenge

Nationwide, in the 2016 Presidential election:

  • 56% of eligible voters participated
  • Voting rate was 63.3% for women; 59.3% for men
  • More than 20 million eligible adults weren’t registered to vote

Currently more than 70% of UB students report they are registered, and vote

Election season provides ample evidence that every vote counts. In two Maryland primary races this year, candidates won by fewer than ten ballots. Yet according to United States Census Bureau data, only around 56 percent of eligible voters participated in the 2016 presidential election.

UB’s student body is a happy—and inspirational—exception to these statistics, recently topping more than 360 colleges and universities across the nation in the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge. The goal of the Challenge, a national non-partisan initiative sponsored by nonprofit Civic Nation, is to improve students’ involvement and voting behavior. UB was the only school in the Challenge to achieve a gold status rating, with more than 70 percent of our students registered and casting ballots.

“We often associate young people with apathy around the issue of voting,” says Anthony Butler, M.A. ’02, director of the Office of Transitions and Community Engagement (OTCE) at UB. “But this data is telling us that UB students are active and engaged.”

The high percentage of voters at UB could be due to a number of factors, Butler continues. “Our students are civic minded. We have a College of Public Affairs and a law school, with many opportunities to participate in programs and issues in Baltimore and beyond. And many of our students are older and involved in their communities already. ”

“We are seeing a tangible excitement on campus, especially among our students who will be eligible to vote for the first time.” – Anthony Butler

The OTCE is providing non-partisan opportunities to increase voter participation, explains Pavan Purswani, coordinator of Transition Programs. “We want to give our students resources to understand the voting process,” he says.

The office recently launched a website where voting resources are easily accessible: included are links to state and city voter information and polling locations, contact information for legislators and suggestions for how to effectively contact them to weigh in on an issue, among other information. “It’s a one-stop shop for civic engagement,” explains Purswani. “Voting is a great first step—then we all need skills to evaluate what we hear in the media, research issues we’re passionate about and participate in the conversation.”

For the first time this year, the office received funding for two part time Andrew Goodman fellows (the program is named for a civil rights-era activist who was killed while working to help people register to vote). Goodman fellows facilitate voter education activities and outreach on campus and in the community; among the events this fall are lectures and debates, as well as trips for students to meet legislators and learn more about how the Maryland government functions.

Having such an engaged university is a point of pride, says Butler. “We are seeing a tangible excitement on campus, especially among our students who will be eligible to vote for the first time,” he observes. “UB is a place of change and growth and opportunity, and voter engagement sets the stage for students to reflect on and influence issues that are important to them.”

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Paula Novash is managing editor of the magazine.

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