How Colleges Can Help Students Vote and What They Can (and Can’t) Do Regarding Campus Political Campaign-Related Activities
October 02, 2023

Despite the increasingly difficult voting processes in a number of states in recent years, students are voting in numbers like never before.

NPR reported last year that midterm turnout among people under 30 was the second highest it’s been in three decades, outpaced only by 2018. And in the last presidential election, The Washington Post reported that 66 percent of college students who were registered to vote cast a ballot, an increase of 14 percentage points over 2016.

With the 2024 GOP presidential primary in full swing, political activities on campuses are likely already widespread. In response, ACE has released an updated issue brief to help colleges and universities manage their obligations and other matters related to student voting and understand the rules of the road regarding campus political campaign activities.

Students’ desire to participate in the democratic process as voters and the practical impediments they face to do so have grown in recent years. Always somewhat fraught and confusing due to shifts in where students live and are registered to vote and differing state laws, the 2020 election and the COVID-19 pandemic ratcheted up these challenges. More recently, we have seen an uptick in the continuing efforts in some states to implement new voting barriers aimed at college students. The issue brief suggests steps colleges and universities can take to enable students to cast their ballots, as well as to fulfill schools’ obligations under the Higher Education Act.

Institutions also should be aware of both pre-existing and new state requirements that could undermine students’ access to the polls. For example, a number of states do not accept student IDs at polling places or have restrictions such as requiring that the student ID cards be signed or issued within the past two years.

Colleges and universities have long supported student voter participation efforts such as the Your Vote, Your Voice initiative, a national campus voter registration project coordinated by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Various other nonpartisan initiatives encourage institutions and their constituencies to help make student voting easier. For instance, the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge is a national awards program recognizing colleges and universities for their commitment to increasing student voting rates.

As the issue brief emphasizes, colleges and universities should take care to ensure that the voting resources offered to their students are nonpartisan and that their communications with students are offered and received that way.

Student Voting and College Political Campaign-Related Activities in 2023

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