Georgetown University Votes (GU Votes) hosted its fifth annual drive for National Voter Registration Day on Sep. 28, registering an estimated over 100 students to vote.
Voter registration tables were set up at multiple locations on campus including the Leavey Center and Red Square, as well as first-year dorms New South Hall, Harbin Hall and Copley Hall. GU Votes’ registration drive was run by approximately roughly 50 student volunteers, according to GU Votes Director of Operations Shelby Benz (SFS ’23). GU Votes is a non-partisan, student-led organization that aims to educate students about the importance of voting and increasing student voter turnout rates.
While GU Votes typically targets first-year students during these annual registration drives, the organization also sought to register sophomores who did not get a chance to participate in an event last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Benz.
“There was ample opportunity to reach a lot of students who might not have thought about registering to vote yet. Freshmen are traditionally less likely to be registered coming into college because they’ve just reached that benchmark of being 18,” Benz said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya. “But also we’ve missed our opportunity to work with the current sophomores, the former freshmen, last year because we all were in this nebulous online school situation.”
Nationwide, younger people are less likely to vote than older people, with fewer than half of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 voting in the 2016 presidential election, 13 points less than the overall voter turnout of the cycle. During the 2018 midterm elections, Georgetown students exceeded the national voting rate of students who live on college campuses, with 49% of students voting.
Although they were not involved in organizing the event, the Georgetown Bipartisan Coalition (GBC) supported GU Votes’ efforts by posting about the drive on social media, according to Matteo Caulfield (COL ’23), president of GBC.
“As an organization dedicated to expanding civic participation and bipartisan cooperation, Georgetown Bipartisan Coalition promotes and encourages the undertakings of GU Votes’ voter registration drive campaigns,” Caulfield wrote in a statement to The Hoya.
The opportunity to table inside first-year dorms, which is usually not allowed for student organizations, helped to encourage first years to register to vote, according to Natalie Long (COL ’22), director of communications for GU Votes.
“No other student organizations are ever allowed to table in the dorms, but they make an exception for us on National Voter Registration Day,” Long said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya. “It’s kind of our idea of getting in the freshman dorms right when everyone is walking to class, coming back, so they just see us and it’s something they can stop by really quickly and register.”
The organization is housed under the Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service and partners with the Andrew Goodman Foundation, which encourages youth leadership development and voting accessibility on college campuses.
The positive relationship between GU Votes and Residential Living contributed to the success of the drive, according to Benz.
“It’s really special that residential living actually lets us table in these dorms because normally tabling is off-limits, but it’s such an important cause and it’s non-partisan and it really makes a difference what we’re doing so the fact that we have that exception is pretty incredible,” Benz said.
In addition to their annual voter registration drive, GU Votes has online resources to help students register to vote and request absentee ballots.
Benz said that voting is key in perpetuating social change.
“Voting is an act of self-love,” Benz said. “It’s an act of caring for yourself and for your family and for your community and for your nation. Change is a slow and gradual process, but positive change is able to be made when everyone has a stake in our democracy and uses their voice and mobilizes and activates to make change happen, to demand change, to build a better, more resilient, more equitable society.”