Chris Streidl of the Wood County Alcohol and Mental Health Service Board talks at a BGSU Votes event October 30 informing University students about Issue 1.

BGSU Votes aims to foster students’ political and civic engagement

Chris Streidl of the Wood County Alcohol and Mental Health Service Board talks at a BGSU Votes event October 30 informing University students about Issue 1.

By Alex Sciranka

Election season is an exciting time of year. For candidates, schedules are filled with meetings, campaigning and political rallies. But for Bowling Green State University student leaders, this is a time for education and active political involvement. 

The Center for Community and Civic Engagement (CCCE) at BGSU fosters a campus culture of political engagement and participation through the BGSU Votes initiative.

In the spirit of experiential learning, BGSU Votes is largely operated by undergraduate Vote Everywhere Ambassadors through a partnership with the Andrew Goodman Foundation (AGF). These student leaders use resources and tools to focus on voter engagement, increasing knowledge and developing the skills students need to engage in democracy, politics and social action.

The foundation supports two student ambassadors on the BGSU campus, sophomores Alyssa Tomins and Harrison Carter, mentored by Civic Action Leader Brandon Willinger and CCCE Associate Director Paul Valdez, who serves as the AGF designated campus champion.

“It is crucial that more students begin to engage with voting so that their interests are represented and their beliefs are heard regarding the issues that affect them,” Tomins said. “Being a Vote Everywhere Ambassador means being able to connect the students on our campus to one of my biggest passions, civic engagement.”

According to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, in 2014, BGSU had a student voter participation rate of 11.9 percent. CCCE has set a goal of increasing that rate to at least 20 percent this year. This semester alone, BGSU student leaders have registered 740 voters, organized 30 events to promote voter engagement, engaged an estimated 5,800 people during their outreach and recruited 260 individuals to sign up to receive election text alerts.

It is crucial that more students begin to engage with voting so that their interests are represented and their beliefs are heard regarding the issues that affect them.

With the voter registration deadline in Ohio recently expiring on Oct. 9, BGSU Votes leaders have focused on helping students create a voting action plan by providing nonpartisan voter resources students can use to gather information about candidates and issues, as well as helping determine their method of voting — early voting, absentee voting, or Election Day voting.

While individuals of college age account for a substantial portion of the eligible voting population, this age group historically has the lowest voter turnout rate across the nation.

“Voting is our civic duty,” Carter said. “With so many important positions and measures on the ballot this November, it is necessary for young people to be prepared to vote.”

One of the biggest goals of BGSU Votes is to demonstrate that the voting process can be a fun community-building effort. Leading up to Election Day, BGSU Votes has hosted two “Pizza and Politics” discussions and has one remaining event, on Nov. 3. The casual events address congressional races, Ohio Issue 1 and the governor's race. The initiative also is hosting “Pedal to the Polls” bicycle rides to the early voting location.

The work being done for voter engagement is supported through partnerships with national organizations, including the Campus Election Engagement Project; National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement; Campus Election Engagement Project; National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement; All In Campus Democracy Challenge, and Vote Together.

Through these collaborations, BGSU has earned grants for programs as well as campus-wide awards of distinction. Additionally, participating in the studies allows BGSU to collect and provide valuable data regarding voting registration and rates specific to universities.

This year, CCCE submitted an application and campus action plan to be considered for the Campus Vote Project’s Voter Friendly Campus designation. This designation helps administrators develop strategies to better engage students and create goals for anticipating student interest in upcoming elections. BGSU will find out if it receives the designation by late December.

BGSU Votes is just one of the many initiatives housed in CCCE designed to encourage student involvement through community-based learning. In keeping with the mission of BGSU, CCCE strives to prepare students for “lives of engaged citizenship and leadership in a global society,” and BGSU Votes helps put students one step closer to fulfilling that goal.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6. If you need assistance with locating your polling place, early voting, requesting an absentee ballot or have any other question regarding the voting process, contact BGSU Votes or contact CCCE directly in 100 University Hall or by calling 419-372-9865.