Ahead of midterm elections, CMU's Voting Engagement Committee looks for increased student participation

In May 2022, a group of students and staff and Carnegie Mellon released what they call the Carnegie Mellon Voter Engagement Action Plan. This voter engagement plan was put together as part of the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenger, which describes itself as an organization that, ”Through institutional engagement, direct student engagement, and fostering a national higher education network, ALL IN strives for an electorate that mirrors our country’s makeup and in which college students are democratically engaged on an ongoing basis, during and between elections, and not just at the polls.”

The group behind this plan is the Voter Engagement Committee, which was formed last year.

“The Voter Engagement Committee was formed for a couple of reasons. First there was a desire to work on coordination of our democratic engagement efforts on campus, to help with collaboration and marketing of these efforts,” Meggan Lloyd, who serves as a Coordinator at SLICE and on the committee, said.

This upcoming November, the 2022 midterm elections will be taking place. The voter engagement plan has set a few standards for the University community to meet: Narrow the gap between registered students and students who vote to less than 10 percent, reach an 80 percent voting rate for registered students in the midterm elections, and have an overall student voting rate of 80 percent for the 2022 election.

To achieve this, several plans are in place, including the formation of a voter ambassador program that is part of the voter engagement plan. “The ambassador program provides low-level time commitment opportunities for students, such as helping with voter registration drives, creating social media creation, and hosting events like democratic engagement trivia games,” Lloyd said.

A lot of the plan’s aspects are based on the information gathered by the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE). The data is “the result of matching student enrollment records with public voting files.”

“NSLVE [sic] is an initiative of The Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE). IDHE has a partnership with the National Student Clearinghouse, and to compile NSLVE [sic] data IDHE matches data submitted to the National Clearinghouse with publicly-available voter registration and turnout records,” Lloyd said. “Once the records have been matched, the Clearinghouse de-identifies the records (all names and information identifying individual students is removed) and sends the records to IDHE, who then compiles a report and sends it to institutions. [sic]

The data in the report reveals a lot about the voting habits of Carnegie Mellon students. For instance, in the 2020 election, while 58 percent of the 18 to 21 years old population at Carnegie Mellon voted, only 28 percent of the 22 to 24 years old population voted. This lines up with the disparity between undergraduate and graduate engagement: 57 percent of the eligible undergraduate population voted while 32 percent of the graduate population voted.

Gaps like this are also seen between the colleges. While fields like English languages and literature had a voter participation rate of 79 percent, only 33 percent of students in computer and information science voted.

“I remember student research groups talking about these issues, and interviewing other students and doing focus groups on campus; they definitely found that there was tons of variation and how much people talked about this in their majors, and how much content they'd ever related to things in class,” assistant professor in the Institute for Politics and Strategy Dan Silverman said. Silverman served as an advisory resource to those on the Voter Engagement Committee. “There was almost a total void in [computer science], in terms of getting political material and class. And so, I think that's not going to entirely change, but it's something to think about, as you look at resource allocation. I mean, those are smart, young students who are forming their beliefs and even more than a quarter of them might want to express them, even if they super busy. Maybe hearing a case about how all the technological innovation they're doing is still so shaped and constrained by politics. And so I think there's just a lot of room to grow there by major.”

As it currently stands, students are expected to attend class on election day, which is slated to be Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Sophomore Brenna Wrubel is a part of the Voter Engagement Committee, but she also serves as minority inspector of elections in her hometown. This means she has to be present at polls during the entire day, so she cannot attend classes on election day. While the University encourages professors and staff to be flexible on election day, there is no set policy regarding what should be done.

“I had a class and when I went to vote before I was running the election, I had to go vote, and then drive back up for my class. And there was one class that said, ‘Yeah, okay, you are totally fine to miss this class.’ And then there was another where they didn't say anything about it,” Wrubel said. “So it's sort of haphazard, and each individual teacher can do that right now to decide their attendance policy. So I did talk to them about getting that more standardized at the university wide level. To say, yes, you can miss class today for election stuff. And I would like to see it be a federal holiday, and also a university holiday. I'm not sure how close we are to that though.”

Voter engagement has been hitting Carnegie Mellon ahead of the upcoming midterm elections.
There have been various student groups, faculty members, and community partners around campus that have been working to get students registered to vote. According to Lloyd, an email will be sent out for National Voter Education Week that highlights events of the week and will include a reminder for students to register to vote and for them to check their voter registration status.

According to Liz Vaughan, Director at SLICE and a member of the Voter Engagement Committee, this is just the beginning for the committee. “We've been steadily sort of chipping away at [voter engagement] every election cycle; we've had the goal of trying to be in a better place than we were the year prior trying new strategies and just trying to build momentum and build off of that momentum,” she said. “But it was really exciting when we decided to create the action plan, because we were at a point in that progress that we were seeing gains that having a longer, longer vision was going to allow us to help to make 10-year plans, think about resources, think about new programs, or initiatives that needed to be developed, that it makes that work more year round.”

As getting out and voting is the end goal, Vaughan emphasized the smaller interactions that students have with their friends as a way to get others out to vote. “We want students to be having those 3 a.m. conversations in the residence hall, getting into these discussions with their student organization meetings, and, ideally, making a plan to head to their polling place with their house man, or whatever it might be.”

On the SLICE website, there are resources for students who want to learn more about the upcoming election. This includes an election day FAQ, sample ballots, a polling place lookup, and more.

Editor's Note: This article was updated Sept. 27 to correct a typo.