Tuesday, November, 29th, 2016 Featured Story
Tufts University got political this election season, as students motivated by this historic contest—for many, the first time they could cast a ballot for president—got informed, engaged, and excited about the election.
The engine for much of that political engagement was JumboVote, a Tisch College-led, Tufts-wide initiative to improve student registration and voting rates and to increase political learning and participation. Supported by the Office of the Provost, and with participation from students, faculty, and staff at all three Tufts campuses, JumboVote helped inform students, facilitated registration, hosted events, and even offered rides to the polls for early voting and on Election Day.
Through JumboVote’s various efforts, more than 1,300 Tufts students registered to vote, both through paper forms and through a successful new partnership with the online platform TurboVote. More than 60 students volunteered their time, serving as “voting experts” who helped their peers through the registration and voting process, and “tabling” for 27 days at the campus center and dining halls.
“We always wanted this to be a student-led initiative, because we know that students respond better to their peers than they do to faculty or administrators,” says Diane Alexander, A15, Tisch College’s Voting Coordinator. “A fantastic group of students came together to really drive JumboVote, and our success is largely due to their passion and commitment.”
One of the hallmarks of JumboVote was a series of events throughout the Fall semester that offered opportunities to register to vote, learn about the candidates, and discuss pressing issues with other members of the Tufts community. We hosted panels with political science faculty members and other Tufts experts before each of the presidential debates—and the vice presidential debate. JumboVote also worked with student groups to co-sponsor issue forums on topics like immigration, reproductive rights, and charter schools on the Medford/Somerville, Boston, and Grafton campuses. The highlight may have been VoteFest, a music festival featuring live bands and food trucks, which was only open to students who registered to vote.
More than a dozen student groups, including the Tufts Democrats, Tufts Republicans, the Tufts chapter of the ACLU, Generation Citizen, the Panhellenic Council, and the Global Health Interest Group worked together to organize these and other events. Indeed, collaboration was one of the hallmarks of JumboVote—on campus and beyond. Tufts students, including two Tisch Scholars, worked directly with election officials in Medford and Somerville, throughout the semester and on Election Day, to ensure a smooth voting process for students.
“Working with local officials was incredibly important, as was the fact that JumboVote students trained and served as poll monitors at the main voting precincts for students in both cities,” says Alexander. “As a result, and thanks to the support of the University General Counsel’s Office, we had no reports of students being denied access to ballots, which had been an issue in previous elections.”
JumboVote has drawn praise from students, faculty, and University leadership, and there is strong potential for the initiative to continue moving forward. “There’s another national election in just two years, and it will be especially crucial to engage students in the midterms, when young people’s turnout tends to be much lower,” says Tisch College Dean Alan Solomont. “But even more importantly, we hope JumboVote energized students to be politically engaged between and beyond elections. That’s when a lot of the work to strengthen our democracy needs to happen.”