Washington University designated ‘Voter-Friendly Campus’

Gerphardt Institute increased voter registration, education and turnout

WashU Votes effort
Students poured in to the Athletic Complex on Election Day 2018. Of the 4,300 people who live on campus, 1,028 of the eligible undergraduate students registered and 995 turned out to vote in Missouri. Other students voted by absentee ballot in their home states. (Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr./Washington University)

Washington University in St. Louis has been recognized, for the second time, as a “Voter-Friendly Campus” by the Campus Vote Project and NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. 

The Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, through its comprehensive Engage Democracy initiative, increased voter registration, education and turnout. 

Among its accomplishments, the institute:

  • Provided tools to help students make sense of voting rights, ballot issues and polling place locations.
  • Increased the total eligible student voter registration rate from 63.2 percent in 2014 to 68 percent in 2018.
  • Increased midterm turnout. Though official numbers won’t be released until this summer, early data from the St. Louis County Board of Elections suggests the overall student voting rate will exceed Gephardt’s goal of 20 percent. Turnout for on-campus students was 97 percent among registered Missouri voters, compared to a 16 percent turnout in 2014.
  • Conducted voter registration drives at every graduate and professional school.
  • Hosted panels before and after Election Day with an ideologically diverse array of experts in policy, politics and community development.

“The success of our 2018 efforts has allowed us to build a significant, broad-reaching foundation that has established the Gephardt Institute’s serious commitment to prepare students for informed and productive engagement in our democracy,” said Stephanie Kurtzman, the Peter G. Sortino director of the Gephardt Institute. “As we plan to and through the 2020 election, we are focused on deepening strategic partnerships to foster a culture of civic engagement at Washington University. This is defined not by one election day, but by our collective knowledge, skills and habits to engage in the process of democracy, every day.”

Gephardt leaders say they are committed to expanding faculty and student partnerships and programs such as Common Ground grants, which fund initiatives that address political polarization, and Engage Democracy workshops, which provide tangible skills for engaging legislative and political processes.

“Civic engagement is so much more than registering voters,” said Cara Johnson, assistant director for student engagement and service. “It’s about our identity as voters in a participatory democracy, where we learn, dialogue and engage in the challenging issues facing communities and government at all levels. Voter engagement is a key step as we prepare students for lifelong engaged citizenship.”

Washington University students, staff or faculty who are interested in getting involved with the Engage Democracy initiative may contact the Gephardt Institute at WashUVotes@wustl.edu.

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