A September report from the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement revealed that the University-wide voter turnout saw a dramatic increase between the 2014 and 2018 midterm elections, spiking from 16.6 percent to 46.8 percent, respectively.
The NSLVE is an initiative spearheaded by the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education at Tufts University. The 2018 report is based on the voting records of more than ten million students at over 1,000 colleges in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Yale’s increase in voter turnout follows a national trend. Nationwide, the average student voting rate increased by nearly 20 percentage points between 2014 and 2018.
“College students are the first ones to tweet and protest and express their opinions, but they’re not the first ones to vote,” said Jonathan Schwartz ’21, who is director of voter engagement for Yale Every Vote Counts, the University’s chapter of the national voter turnout group.
The Yale-specific report highlighted a substantial rise in voter participation in comparison to other institutions. In 2014, Yale’s voter participation rate was 3.1 percentage points lower than the average across American institutions, but in 2018 it was 7.7 percentage points higher than the average. Voter registration at the University has increased by 10 percent and the turnout of registered voters has risen from 29 percent to 50 percent in the last 4 years. Students’ preferred voting methods have also changed, with a 7.1 percent increase in absentee voting, along with a 15.3 percent increase in in-person voting.
However, the University’s rate is still lower than the upper echelon of university voting rates, which top out at 64.1 percent participation among eligible voters. The national report did not identify these institutions by name.
“Studies show that getting people in the habit of voting young is really valuable,” said Jordan Cozby ’20, who co-founded Yale Votes. “If they vote in their first three election cycles, the degree to which they’re more likely to become a lifelong voter is astronomical.”
Last fall, a handful of student organizations collaborated to form Yale Votes in anticipation of the 2018 midterm elections. Organized primarily by the Yale College Democrats, Every Vote Counts and the Yale College Council, the nonpartisan group facilitated two community-wide initiatives — the Pledge to Vote and Party at the Polls campaigns.
The Pledge to Vote campaign brought voter registration forms to booths at Cross Campus in October 2018 and challenged undergraduates to out-register their Harvard counterparts. On Election Day, the group hosted Party at the Polls events on Old Campus and Cross Campus. At the event, members of Yale Votes distributed information about voting methods and polling stations.
While an October 2018 press release stated that Yale College Republicans co-hosted the Pledge to Vote event, both Schwartz and Dems president Timothy White ’20 said the YRC declined to join the coalition.
Both the Dems and EVC have worked independently to encourage civic engagement on campus. Last fall, the Dems provided support for several political campaigns, including that of Governor of Connecticut Ned Lamont and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke D-Texas. Members of the group knocked on over 2,300 doors and made over 13,000 phone calls in fall 2018, White said.
Though Yale’s EVC chapter was only founded in 2017, it joined a coalition of 47 chapters at colleges across the country. On average, campuses with an EVC chapter experienced a 5.6 percent increase in voter turnout, according to Schwartz.
“If you want to change the system, you do so at the ballot box,” said EVC president Philip Hinkes ’21.
In the weeks prior to the 2018 midterm elections, several Yale students seeking to vote by absentee ballot who used their residential college’s mailing address found their ballots returned to sender without notifying them. Students voiced their frustration to their colleges’ operations managers and University Secretary Kimberly Goff-Crews. Unlike every other Ivy League school, the University does not provide mail services to its students free of charge, instead requiring them to purchase a P.O. box annually to receive mail.
Yale Votes has received assurance from the Yale College Dean’s Office that overhauling the current mail system is a priority, Schwartz said.
“Yale preaches the value of civic engagement and doesn’t always live up to this value when it comes to informing students about voting,” White said.
According to Hinkes, Yale Votes is working with administrators to add a voter registration tab to the Student Information System, which is as an online hub for student data. Hinkes added that support from the YCC has been paramount to these efforts.
Founded in 2015, Institute for Democracy & Higher Education focuses on urging institutions to prioritize civic learning and democratic engagement in order to advance social and political equity, and has records dating back to 2014.
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