Students can now request absentee ballots through a voter drop box system implemented in Residence Hall Offices across campus as part of an ongoing effort headed by the Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service.
The student-led voter registration initiative, called GU Votes, aims to simplify the voting process and increase student turnout rates on Election Day.
The drop box system launched Sept. 24, and boxes will be checked nightly by GU Votes volunteers for absentee ballot requests through late-October.
The development is part of GU Votes’ attempt to register students to vote in the upcoming Nov. 6 elections. Prior to the 2016 election, 90.4 percent of Georgetown students were registered to vote, with 71.1 percent of registered students turning out to vote, resulting in an overall Georgetown student turnout rate of 64.2 percent, according to a 2016 report by the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement.
Since the initiative was launched, GU Votes has helped either register or get absentee ballots for over a third of undergraduate students, according to GU Votes Co-President Andrew Straky (COL ’20).
Conveniently located in RHOs, the drop boxes simplify the process of requesting an absentee ballot for many students interested in voting, Straky said in an interview with The Hoya.
The typical process of casting your vote involves filling out a state-specific absentee ballot request form, printing out and mailing the form, receiving the ballot in the mail, and then mailing the ballot back to a state or local registrar office.
GU Votes hopes to reach every student on campus, Straky said.
“We’re going to effectively reach every single Georgetown student at the undergraduate and graduate level, and it would not be possible without the level of support in Georgetown voter engagement across the board,” Straky said. “It’s something that everyone can get behind, and we’re just happy that we have the opportunity to be able to facilitate that process.”
In partnership with the Office of Residential Living, GU Votes is providing pre-stamped envelopes at six RHO drop box locations, eliminating one step of the process. Ballot requests can also be dropped off at the GU Politics office located in Healy Hall.
“Very few students know where you can buy a stamp on this campus, so that in itself can prevent a lot of people from voting,” Straky said. “If you’re passing by an RHO several times a week, there’s no reason why you can’t take the time to log on and vote if you’re interested in doing so.”
Housed in the GU Politics office in the basement of Healy, GU Votes is funded by the Andrew Goodman Foundation, which works to inspire young voters; the Georgetown University Student Association; the Office of Student Affairs; and the Office of Federal Relations.
GU Votes was founded in 2015 with the mission of registering more voters and increasing political participation on campus. It organized its first “Storm the Dorms” event in the fall leading up to the 2016 presidential election between Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
One barrier preventing registered students from voting is the early deadline to submit an absentee ballot, which often comes 25 days before Election Day, Straky said.
“Voting deadlines are often 25 days or more before Election Day so it makes it very difficult for students who don’t even realize that it’s mid-October and it’s already too late to vote,” Straky said.
The addition of the drop box system and the inclusion of pre-stamped envelopes removes obstacles that may prevent students from participating in the 2018 election, Georgetown University College Republicans President Jake Lyons (COL ’20) wrote in an email to The Hoya.
“GU Votes was a great resource to students during the 2016 cycle, but have improved by breaking down even more barriers that may prevent Hoyas from being able to vote in November,” Lyons wrote. “Having simple things like letters and stamps, a drop off box, and a responsive GU Votes community who will answer any question you might have makes a profound impact on the ability for Hoyas to vote.”
GU Votes also held a “Storm the Dorms” event Sept. 25, which was National Voter Registration Day, to push voter registration and turnout. Fifty volunteers from student groups across campus, including Georgetown University College Democrats and GUCR, tabled inside freshman dorms, the Southwest Quad and the Leavey Center.
Volunteers helped students register to vote, check their voter registration status, fill out an absentee ballot request form and view the candidates on their specific ballot through the GU Votes student portal, a website outlining the voter registration process for students.
“Storm the Dorms” is crucial in reminding students to register to vote, GUCD Director of Campaigning and Off-Campus Affairs Rebecca Hollister (COL ’21) said in an interview with The Hoya.
“Especially during this time when there are midterms happening, it can be really difficult for college students to have anything on their minds but that,” Hollister said. “We’re definitely focused on getting people registered to vote because the work we do at College Democrats would mean nothing if people don’t actually vote.”
Community outreach events like “Storm the Dorms” is part of the ongoing effort to encourage civic engagement, GU Votes Co-President Jacqueline Beveridge (SFS ’19) said in an interview with The Hoya.
“One of our goals is to create a civic engagement ecosystem and voter engagement within the campus community,” Beveridge said. “Something like ‘Storm the Dorms’ really brings the campus together to unite around National Voter Registration Day.”
Ongoing support from the university and student groups enable voter registration efforts to have a wide reach across the student body, Straky said.
Although student groups are traditionally not allowed to table inside the residential communities, the Office of Residential Living has granted special permission for voter registration drives, according to Straky.
GU Politics plans to continue offering support to the student-led initiative in the future, according to Jennifer Solorio, GU Politics manager, student engagement and logistics.
“GU Politics is proud to be the home of GU Votes,” Solorio wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We’re definitely going to keep supporting this project long-term, we are so proud that students run the initiative, and thrilled that this has truly become a community effort.”
Moving forward, GU Votes hopes to better integrate voter registration both on campus and in the greater D.C. community, Beveridge said.
“One thing that has been in the back of our minds, and we’re trying to figure out how to do it, is reaching out to the larger Georgetown community beyond the gates,” Beveridge said. “That is really an important step forward because Georgetown is such an open campus and we do engage with the larger Georgetown and D.C. community.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated 64.2 percent was the nationwide student turnout rate.