Nonpartisan BGSU Votes grows student voter registrations ahead of Election Day

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – Committed to nonpartisan democratic engagement, a student-led initiative at Bowling Green State University increased student voter registration ahead of Election Day through robust education and outreach.

BGSU Votes registered more than 400 voters from the start of the Fall 2023 semester through Ohio’s voter registration deadline on Oct. 10, more than doubling last year’s totals, with a five-day-a-week presence on campus.

A dedicated network of more than 150 student volunteers and BGSU Votes leaders staffed a table outside the Bowen-Thompson Student Union Monday to Friday and will remain there through Election Day. In the first seven weeks of classes, the group tabled twice as many times as last year.

“It’s a big commitment to be out there 22 hours a week, but we know that meeting students where they are has been a very successful strategy in increasing voter registration,” said Kendra Lutes, associate director of the C. Raymond Marvin Center for Student Leadership and Civic Engagement.

“There are a lot of BGSU students excited to educate fellow students about voter registration and encourage them to get out and use their voice, which was a huge part of this year's success.”

Creating a civically engaged community

Volunteers educate students on voter registration, inform them of ballot issues, early and absentee voting and encourage participation in the upcoming election. In addition to tabling, BGSU Votes engages with students through phone banking.

BGSU Votes leaders also facilitate workshops, host presentations and create programming on campus throughout the year.

Hannah Boyle, a senior and BGSU Votes leader since 2020, said she values BGSU students who donate their time to the cause, attributing the ability to staff a table regularly to the rise in voter registrations.

“Students will often tell us that they’ve been meaning to register to vote and thank us for being there,” she said. "We would not be able to do what we’re doing without the help of our volunteers.”

BGSU Votes was established in 2012 and is housed in the Marvin Center for Student Leadership and Civic Engagement. Its goal to increase student voter participation and civic engagement aligns with the University’s mission to create public good by supporting a healthy democracy.

Voting rates among BGSU students increased by nearly 12% from 2016 to 2020, with 67.6% of students voting in the 2020 presidential election, higher than the national average for all institutions. BGSU Votes aims to increase rates by another 10% or more in the 2024 presidential election. 

“We have a responsibility as a public university for the public good to help our students identify ways they can use their experiences, values, leadership skills and engagement in the community to enact positive change,” said Dr. Jacob Clemens, senior director of the Marvin Center.

“Helping students understand the democratic process from registering to vote to being informed of ballot issues to participating in the election is essential in creating a civically engaged community.”

Voter-friendly campus

The work spearheaded by BGSU Votes has elevated the University’s reputation nationally as a voter-friendly campus.

ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, a nationwide initiative to increase student voter participation on college campuses, denoted BGSU as a silver campus for its voting percentage rate of 60% to 69%. The BGSU Votes 2022 Action Plan was rated a “Highly Established Action Plan.”

BGSU was also one of only six public, four-year universities in Ohio that committed to achieving 100% student voter registration and participation in the 2022 election and beyond by joining the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge Presidents’ Commitment.

Two BGSU students, now alumni, were named to the ALL IN Student Voting Honor Roll for leading nonpartisan voter engagement. Sierra Nathans ‘21, ‘23 was a recipient in 2022, and Maureen Freeman ‘23 received the honor among 175 students nationwide in 2023.

“I would always try to think of fun and creative ways to get people excited about voting,” Freeman said. “I wanted BGSU Votes to feel like a resource to the students and a place where they could ask any questions. It means a lot to be recognized for the hard work and time I put into BGSU Votes and its mission.

“Increasing the young student vote is so important. They are the future of this country, and their voice matters.”

Updated: 01/24/2024 02:09PM