Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service’s GU Votes initiative held its fourth annual “Storm the Dorms” voter registration drive on National Voter Registration Day, Sept. 24.
For seven hours, 50 volunteers staffed tables in the four first-year residential communities and the Leavey Center registering students to vote. GU Votes Ambassador Andrew Straky (COL ’20) estimates that hundreds of students registered to vote.
The registration drive helps students be proactive about voter registration for local elections this year, as well as primaries in early 2020, according to Straky. Students interested in voting in primaries in their home state will need to request absentee ballots sooner than they might realize, he said.
“There are state elections in five states, but I think most people are looking ahead toward the primaries,” he said. “Those are going to come up quicker than people think, so we’re trying to get the first step done right away.”
Motivating students to register in a year without a national election is more challenging, but crucial to GU Votes’ mission, Straky said.
“It’s small little quirks that either intentionally or unintentionally create huge barriers for students to vote, so you want to get people thinking about it as early as possible,” he said.
GU Votes’ cause resonated in a bipartisan manner with members of Georgetown University College Democrats, Georgetown University College Republicans and other nonpolitical campus organizations volunteering to register their peers to vote.
“Storm the Dorms” is important because it helps students participate in politics, according to GUCD Chair Rebecca Hollister (COL ’21).
“Even though it is 2019 and not a major election year, this is an essential and ongoing project,” Hollister wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We need to make sure that even while not at home, every college student has the opportunity to have their voice heard.”
Voter registration is essential for fair and democratic elections, said GUCR President Hayley Grande (COL ’21).
“We believe that voting is integral to the strength of American democracy,” Grande wrote in an email to The Hoya. “It’s especially important that Georgetown students are registered to have a voice in government.”
Before the first “Storm the Dorms” event in 2016, GU Votes worked with the Office of Residential Living on an exemption to a ban on tabling in residential communities. Georgetown University’s Speech and Expression Policy ordinarily prohibits tabling in residential communities due to concerns about noise and ease of access.
Making this exception for voter registration helps GU Votes reach first-year students, who are most likely to be unregistered to vote, according to Straky.
“We have a new class of first-year students every year, and obviously they just turned 18 for the most part and are the least likely to be registered to vote,” Straky said. “So we’re trying to capture these students non-stop, so that’s why we strategically choose to table directly in the first-year communities.”
This strategy paid off in the case of Aaron Greenstein (SFS ’23), who came across a GU Votes table in Darnall Hall and decided to register.
“I was walking to my room and there was a table outside in the hallway, asking if I had registered to vote,” Greenstein said in a conversation with The Hoya. “I wanted to vote but I didn’t know I had to register. I thought it was very helpful having that set up.”
Students like Greenstein registered through GU Votes’ online voter portal, bit.ly/guvotes, which Straky called a “one stop shop for voting at Georgetown.”
“You can register to vote, you can check your voter registration status, you can request an absentee ballot, you’ll even be able to see who’s on your ballot once we get close enough to the elections,” Straky said.
Since some states do not have online voter registration programs, the majority of students will need to mail in a voter registration form to their hometown. GU Votes’ voter drop box program allows students to easily mail in their registration forms or absentee ballot requests by providing prestamped envelopes at numerous locations around campus, including The Midnight Mug, Uncommon Grounds and The Hilltoss. The drop box program launched Sept. 24, 2018.
These voter drop boxes will be available until Oct. 24, but there is a permanent one in the GU Politics Office in the basement of Healy Hall, according to Straky. GU Votes is planning different ways to eliminate obstacles to student voting, and new programs are currently underway, he said.
The university is very supportive of institutionalizing voter engagement overall,” Straky said, “We’re working on a few projects to make it even easier for students to have access to voter registration and access to ballot requests.”