Navigating the voter registration and absentee ballot process can be daunting. Registration deadlines, state-specific balloting regulations, and government websites can be so overwhelming that would-be voters are discouraged before they get the chance to cast their vote.
To make sure that every Hopkins voice is heard, the university's Center for Social Concern in 2018 launched Hopkins Votes, an effort to ensure that every eligible voter has the knowledge and resources they need to participate in the democratic process.
With the 2020 election primary season now under way, the center hosted an Absentee Ballot Party on Friday, the first of many events this year designed to help students cast their votes in local, statewide, and national races that reflect the university's commitment to encouraging a culture of civic engagement. About 200 students attended the event, and CSC staff and student ambassadors showed interested voters how to register to vote or request an absentee ballot. They even assisted in printing, addressing, and mailing paper ballots. By the end of the day, they had collected and mailed 122 absentee ballots, request forms and voter registration forms for interested students.
Misti McKeehen, executive director of the Center for Social Concern, said these events are a great way to engage students in the democratic process and provide targeted assistance.
"It's just a matter of helping students ask the right questions, and then connecting them to the resources they need from there," McKeehen said. "We see in this time frame recurring questions like 'Can I vote absentee?' and 'Do I have to register in Baltimore or at home?' We want students to know that it's really up to them. They have that choice."
Hopkins Votes was launched during the 2018 midterm election cycle in an effort to increase voter turnout across the university. As a result of those efforts, more than 5,000 more Hopkins students voted in 2018 than in 2014, increasing voter turnout among students by more than 30 percentage points, from 14.4% to 44.8%. JHU received two awards at the All-In Campus Democracy Challenge ceremony in November in recognition of this increase, including an award for the most-improved voting rate at a large, private institution.
In the most recent presidential election in 2016, 55.8% of eligible students voted, a figure the university is eager to see increase in 2020.
To find accurate and up-to-date information, voters are encouraged to use TurboVote, an online tool that streamlines the registration and voting processes. TurboVote users provide their name and address and indicate whether they prefer to vote by mail or in person. The site then confirms their registration status and provides either digital or mailed copies of an absentee ballot or polling place information. TurboVote will also send text message and email reminders before important voting deadlines.
Claire Zou, a junior international studies major and CSC intern, spent Friday's event helping students figure out their state's specific requirements for absentee voting and answering questions from those who didn't know where to start. On several occasions, she ran off to find a printer so the ballot could be filled out and mailed that day.
"The confusion can be a deterrent," Zou said. "We're hoping this can encourage people. If they don't know what they're doing, it's totally fine. We're here to help."
In addition to assistance with registration and absentee ballots, the event featured information on how to participate in the upcoming census, as well as objects and information commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment granting U.S. women the right to vote.
CSC staff is available to help students navigate the voting process at any time. Students interested in submitting an absentee ballot can drop by the center during office hours to get help filling out forms, as well as stamps and envelopes to mail a completed ballot.
Senior Eillen Martinez came out to Friday's event early to make sure she had time to prepare her ballot. A resident of Florida, Martinez said she wanted a little extra help to make sure that everything was filled out correctly and counted when the time came.
"Voting is one of the ways you can be an active citizen and contribute to the future of our country," Martinez said. "Although we should do more than just vote to make a difference or social impact, it's the basis of everything. If enough people do it, your voice is really heard."