Civic Engagement and Democracy: Special Focus on the 2020 Election

As higher education leaders, we are committed to preparing our students for a lifetime of civic engagement and active participation in our democracy. Our commitment has never been more timely and important. This election season comes amid a once-in-a-century pandemic, depression-era economic hardship, a national reckoning over racial violence and injustice, and unprecedented political divisions. Campus leaders face daunting challenges: supporting student voting during a pandemic, ensuring civility when it is in short supply, and, eventually, managing the aftermath.

ACE has been working to offer an array of nonpartisan resources in this area. Much of this work grows out of our new Community of Practice on Civic Engagement and Democracy, which meets regularly on ACE Engage®.  The resources on this page will take you to the Voting and Civic Engagement group and webinars that are housed on Engage – you can create a free account to gain access – and to posts on ACE’s Higher Education Today blog, podcasts, and other resources here on, all of which cover various aspects of the election, with a focus on the impact on students and campuses. (You will need to register on Engage, but it only takes about five minutes and is free.)  We will be sure to keep this resource page updated with new content.

As always, we look to our members for advice and recommendations on how we can help. Please write to ACE’s Brad Farnsworth ( if you want to contribute.

Ted Mitchell
ACE President

Webinars and Recordings

ACE Engage® webinars share recommendations and key resources for how campus leaders can help students participate in the democratic process this fall and exercise the right to vote.

Subscribe to ACE's dotEDU podcast for in-depth conversations with campus leaders like Jonathan Alger, president of James Madison University, about promoting civic democracy and engagement on campus and how institutions are approaching the 2020 election in light of the pandemic and the extreme partisanship that has gripped the country. Be sure to also check out ACE's Engage Conversations limited podcast series on Reopening College Campuses During COVID-19.

Higher Education Today Blog

No matter which candidate wins the upcoming presidential election, campus leaders have a role in maintaining civility, promoting civic engagement, and celebrating the democratic process. Six participants from ACE’s Community of Practice on Civic Engagement and Democracy talk about how colleges and universities can make a difference.

Celebrating Democracy, No Matter the Outcome

By Darren Cambridge and Brad Farnsworth, American Council on Education

No matter which candidate wins the upcoming presidential election, campus leaders still have a role in maintaining civility, promoting civic engagement, and celebrating the democratic process. Read about how ACE’s new community of practice on civic engagement is helping make the election more meaningful to students.

Last Call for Democracy: A Message for College and University Leaders

By Nancy L. Thomas and Adam Gismondi, Institute for Democracy & Higher Education, Tufts University

Nancy Thomas and Adam Gismondi of the Tufts Institute for Democracy & Higher Education ask higher education leaders to take a stand for student voting rights during these contentious times, engage the big questions about our democracy’s health, and protect academic freedom and the right of educators to discuss political issues with students.

Bridging Divides, Public Work: A Call to Action for Higher Education

By Derek W. M. Barker of the Kettering Foundation and Harry C. Boyte, Augsburg University

In these times of stress, higher education needs to reclaim its democratic role as bridge builder and commit to what might be called a “higher partisanship” beyond partisan warfare—that is, a forceful commitment to the democratic process itself without favoring any particular viewpoint. Read more from Derek W. M. Barker of the Kettering Foundation and Harry C. Boyte of Augsburg University.

Issue Brief and Related Resources

Student Voting and College Political Campaign-Related Activities in 2020

This ACE issue brief (PDF) addresses institutions' obligations and other matters related to student voting, and updates the 2018 version of the brief for administrators, faculty, and staff about community members' involvement in political campaign-related activities.

Related Resources

The Day After Tomorrow
Inside Higher Ed | November 3, 2020

Tips and suggestions for long- and short-term ways that faculty members can prepare and foster collaboration in the classroom post-2020 election.

The Institute for Democracy & Higher Education's recommendations for this unique election: Election Imperatives 2020: A Time of Physical Distancing and Social Action

A handy – NEW – checklist from IDHE: Only Days Left until the 2020 Election Ends. There's Still Time to Act. Here's How.

Want to know whether your students vote? Join the (free) National Study of Learning, Voting & Engagement

What senior leaders can do to ensure student rights to vote:  Memorandum to Senior Leaders in Higher Education on Ensuring Student Voting Rights (PDF)

How to Get Students to Vote in a Pandemic? Get Creative
The Chronicle of Higher Education | October 6, 2020

Colleges, Organizations Launch National Voter Education Week
Inside Higher Ed | October 6, 2020

College students upended by the pandemic wrestle with yet another challenge: How to vote this fall?
The Washington Post (sub. req.) | October 5, 2020

Coronavirus restrictions and remote learning may hamper college student voter turnout
The Texas Tribune | September 25, 2020

Voter Suppression During COVID-19
Diverse | September 21, 2020

Helping Students Vote During a Pandemic
Inside Higher Ed | August 25, 2020

​Join the Discussion

Join the Voting and Civic Engagement group on ACE Engage, where senior campus leaders and other experts are discussing topics involving how to prepare campuses for the presidential election, such as overcoming barriers to student voting and helping students engage in civic activities like becoming poll workers.

Create Your Account​​​​

Updates from ACE

Digital Democracy News

Get the latest key voting & civic engagement news, top events and discussions, resources, tools, and inspirations all from a community of top higher education organizations in the civic/political arena.


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