Wednesday, January 28, 2015


Students at Augustana College
 prepare the sidewalks before Election Day
MTCC’s election engagement work successfully mobilized over 15,000 college students and community members across the region in the summer and fall of 2014. Working closely with the national Campus Election Engagement Project (or “CEEP”) a grassroots, college-focused initiative begun by author Paul Loeb, Campus Compact institutions in Montana and South Dakota rose to the challenge of engaging students volunteers, voters and engaged citizens. The project mobilized college students to serve with local organization to increase youth voter turnout.  At least 12,000 college students and young people across Montana and South Dakota were registered to vote in the 2014 midterm elections.

What happened in Montana and South Dakota?
Students at the University of Montana
show what they'd turn out for!
In the fall of 2014 college students registered to vote in new and resourceful ways, including: as part of freshman orientations; at parades and rallies; and by tapping into competitive school spirit. The Forward Montana Foundation worked with the University of Montana and set a goal of registering 10,000 new voters. At the final tally, this goal was exceeded with the final new voter count of 10,737!  Montana State University used school pride using the theme “Cat Country Votes!” This slogan was printed on shirts and used at sporting events, peer-to-peer voter registration around campus, and during a large event on September 23, National Voter Registration Day. Over 500 students were registered at MSU. Other campuses used homecoming and orientation events to register students to vote, relying heavily on student volunteers registering their peers.

Students at Augustana College pass
out candy and reminders to vote
during the "Trick or Vote" event
In discussions with college students across the region, many expressed that if they had better access to nonpartisan information; they would feel more comfortable voting.  To address this, CEEP created a Nonpartisan Candidate Guide that presented the candidates for Montana’s Senate race and their positions on several issues. The format was designed to be a easy-to-digest, easily understood, nonpartisan tool and MTCC students, faculty and staff shared their appreciation for the resource. CEEP also created a state-specific Student Voter Guides that presented frequently asked questions by students, (e.g. What ID do I need to bring with me? Where can I find my polling location?) and the information new student voters would need for their respective states. The CEEP tools received high marks, and were distributed in the thousands to students at MSU, UM, Salish Kootenai College, Bitterroot College, Fort Peck Community College and Augustana College in South Dakota. Overall, campuses noted significant increases to their educational efforts in many cases thanks to the support and resources provided by Campus Compact and the Election Engagement Project.

Fort Peck Community College students
drive their peers to the poll
Election Day 2014 saw a push from campuses and organizations to get students to the polls. Salish Kootenai College and Fort Peck Community College offered gathering places for students, staff, and faculty to enjoy refreshments, while rides to the polls were provided for all who needed them.  Student volunteers offered free rides to the polls at Montana’s flagship universities, Montana State University and and the University of Montana, encouraging their peers in classes, dining halls, residence halls, and other gathering locations to take the time to go cast a ballot.

A mini grant provided to the Montana Public Interest Research Group or “MontPIRG” helped student interns to make 3,347 get out the vote calls through phone banking.

Forward Montana Foundation changed the lyrics of the popular song “It’s All About That Bass,” to be, “I’m All About That Vote” encouraging students to vote, and used social media to steer students to the music video, “Turn Out for What” that features celebrities standing up for the issues they value and asking students what they would “turn out” for. Campus social media sites saw a huge increases in traffic during Election Day as updates were posted and free rides promoted. Fort Peck Community College staff were interviewed on the local radio station and discussed the importance of voting; the interview was videotaped and put on the college’s Facebook page to raise awareness among students!

At Augustana College in South Dakota twenty student volunteers hosted a full week of events leading up to election day and culminating in a well-attended results party. Following these 2014 election engagement work, Augie’s curriculum advisory board began to explore voter engagement efforts in its curriculum, utilizing the input of our South Dakota intern, Brittany Cleveland. 
Students from Augustana College show their
 enthusiasm for voting with their school mascot,
Augie the Viking on Election Day

Sustainable Partnerships
When asked if they would support future election engagement work, staff from the Bitterroot College UM, answered:“Yes! Through the class many students got the information they’d not otherwise have gotten. The class curriculum was altered slightly to accommodate Campus Election Engagement Project ideas and resources.” Others across the region echoed the sentiment and many institutions are already preparing for the 2016 election cycle. With great feedback, plenty of documentation, and strong connections made this year, the 2016 election engagement initiative stands a strong chance of increasing student voter turnout, volunteer engagement and campaign support, making lasting impacts for years to come. 

Big Thanks!

This great work was made possible with generous support of the Campus Election Engagement Project, Ohio Campus Compact, and the hard work of Brenda Cole working from Montana, and Brittany Cleveland working from South Dakota. 
Students from Montana State University
offer rides to the polls.