The next national election is nearly two years away, yet for the students and administrators who gathered for a national conference at Harvard, the time is now to begin strategizing how colleges and universities can spur young people to cast ballots in 2020 and influence the political debate.
About 125 participants from around the nation came to Cambridge from Friday to Sunday for the National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement to share notes on campus voting initiatives in last fall’s midterm elections and to brainstorm on how to expand on them for the next cycle.
“Events like this are going to be extremely beneficial for bringing back ideas about increasing civic engagement and the participation rate on our campus,” said Stephen Cromwell, a University of Oklahoma junior. “It’s really important for us to help educate young people and let them know just how big an impact they really have.”
The event, another in a continuing series of such conferences hosted by Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP) at the Kennedy School, drew students and administrators from about 40 public and private colleges and universities, including rural and urban institutions, community colleges, and historically black colleges and universities. Speakers included student leaders of the March for Our Lives, formed last year to advocate for stricter gun laws, and leaders of Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote initiative.
The conference was intended to build upon the work of the Harvard Votes Challenge and similar recent programs on other campuses that raised student voter participation last fall. It also addressed the need to expand voting access for all citizens.
“Voting is just a right, and so if we’re in a representative democracy, then everybody should have access to the ballot,” said Delaney Vandergrist, a senior and student body president at North Carolina A&T State University. “Right now, we’re in a crisis, with all the voter suppression tactics and laws that are coming out.”