Our Stanford community is justifiably proud of its excellence, achievement and impact in many areas. But we are below average on an important measure of performance: voting. According to the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE), only 48.1 percent of eligible Stanford students (undergrads, graduate students, postdocs) voted in the 2016 presidential election, compared to an average of 50.4 percent for all higher education institutions and 52.3 percent for our closest peer group, research universities. As we prepare for the mid-term election this fall, it is worth noting that NSLVE calculated that fewer than one in five eligible Stanford students participated in the 2014 mid-term election.
While we hope the social and civic rationales for engaging in the electoral process are self-evident, including the fact that voting is a cornerstone of our democracy, there are distinctive reasons for Stanford to lead. As a world leader in research that extends knowledge and seeks to solve complex problems, Stanford has a responsibility to seek to understand why students are not voting. We aspire to educate the whole student and “to promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization” and are therefore mission-bound to encourage voting. We also have a legal obligation: The 1998 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965 requires universities to make a good faith effort to distribute voter registration forms to each student in attendance.
The Stanford community has numerous assets that can be leveraged to establish voting as a norm. The University has added a reminder to register to vote in the student view in Axess and is exploring other ways to provide a link to stanford.turbovote.org — a service that enables students to obtain registration materials and reminders for the state of their choice. We have several faculty members who are experts on civic participation and how to encourage it. We have many student organizations, both partisan and non-partisan, who perennially engage in voter registration and are well positioned to grow efforts to increase student voting through programming and events. Community organizations such as the League of Women Voters of Palo Alto have been outstanding partners in efforts to mobilize and educate voters on and off campus, and Stanford is part of TurboVote’s national efforts to share resources and strategies across institutions.
Stanford should seek to excel in voter registration and participation in the same way it excels in so many other dimensions. Research suggests that substantially increasing voting requires a coordinated, community-wide effort with broad involvement by the student body. To provide the Stanford community an opportunity to share, discuss and coordinate current and future strategies to increase registration and voting rates, we invite you to join us on Tuesday, May 22 at noon in the Branner Hall Lounge. All interested members of the University community are encouraged to attend. Sign up here: https://tinyurl.com/stanfordvote19
Larry Litvak, Lecturer, Program on Urban Studies and Public Policy Program
Olivia Martin ’19, Stanford in Government
Tom Schnaubelt, Haas Center for Public Service
Rachel Vaughan ’20, Stanford in Government