The Center for Youth Political Participation (CYPP) at the Eagleton Institute of Politics recently launched RU Voting National, a new online resource helping college students around the country with registering to vote, obtaining up-to-date, accurate and nonpartisan voter information as well as providing statistics on each state's previous voter turnout.
“We have a nice long proven track record on our campus of really offering digital materials as a one-stop-shop for Rutgers students,” said Elizabeth Matto, an Eagleton Institute of Politics associate research professor and director of the CYPP. “Based on our success and based on the work we’ve done on our campus, motivating and encouraging students to get registered and to vote, we wanted to take this effort and make it applicable to college students around the country.”
Matto said that the changes to the typical Election Day that are taking place this year, not only in New Jersey but also across the nation, can negatively impact the college student vote.
She also said that despite the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic preventing the Institute's usual direct outreach, campuses around the country have had to use different methods to encourage voter participation.
“We’re not able to have tables outside the Douglass Student Center or to have a Popcorn and Politics event in the drawing room at Eagleton,” Matto said. “On the other hand, though, it encouraged us (and) forced us to get creative with our outreach efforts.”
She said the Institution's social media platforms, which include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, have videos on how to properly fill out ballots as well as stories from students regarding their experiences with democracy.
The RU Voting National website includes state-specific information for all 50 states and territories, including how to check voter registration status, what practices are used for voter registration and voting by mail as well as links to other important paperwork, Matto said.
The website also has a frequently-asked-questions page, which is based on the Institute's experience on the Rutgers campus as well as questions common in the age of COVID-19, Matto said.
“We’ve always heard from students, ‘I want to stay informed, but I don’t know what a reliable nonpartisan news source is,’ or ‘I’m not exactly sure which candidate aligns best with my interests, or I don’t know what candidates are running for office,’” Matto said. “We’ve also provided those sorts of resources so students get the information they want.”
Other sections of the website have reliable news sources students can read for more information about the candidates, an interactive map to find more information about voting in their state and a live chat feature with students available to answer any questions the website’s visitors may have, she said.
Matto said the site is not only designed for students, but it was also created by a number of undergraduates who compiled research in order to populate the site. These students will also be answering questions through the live chat feature.
“The more peer-to-peer contact you can have the better, and the more likely it is that other college students will be responsive to college students walking them through the process,” she said.
Rutgers is also part of the Big Ten Voting Challenge, which encourages student voter turnout. Matto said the Institute is planning an event for after the election, including students from all the Big Ten schools, to digest the results of the campaign, along with other initiatives to connect students nationwide.
Matto said the site also has data about voter turnout by state based on information from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. She said Generation Z and millennials make up a significant portion of the eligible voting population, meaning they have a large stake in the outcome of elections.
“Young adults, their voter turnout rates have always lagged behind older Americans, but in 2018, they increased dramatically,” Matto said. “Voter turnout rates doubled between 2014 and 2018 for young adults around the country, so college students (and) young adults were poised to vote in large numbers this fall.”
Additionally, Matto said people need to be prepared for the procedures used for a mail-in ballot, especially with this year’s election being primarily on a vote-by-mail model, which is much different from traditional voting.
She said voters must make sure they follow the directions to complete the vote-by-mail ballot carefully, as any incorrect or missed steps could result in the ballot not being counted.
Additionally, Matto said there is little evidence that voting by mail makes it easier to commit voter fraud or that mail-in ballots favor one party or another.
Matto said the RU Voting National initiative will hopefully help young people participate in this year’s election despite the pandemic.
“I really think we were poised in 2020 to have really record-breaking voter turnout by young adults, which is why we didn’t want that to be sacrificed,” Matto said. “We wanted to mitigate the potential damage from students being upended now due to COVID-19 and being remote and give them the information they need to get registered and vote on Election Day.”