Iowa State University has been named among the most successful universities in the country when it comes to student engagement and participation in the electoral process, according to the Washington Monthly’s 2020 Best Colleges for Student Voting Honor Roll.
The Washington Monthly, an independent magazine focusing on politics and government, is most well-known for its annual ranking of U.S. Colleges and Universities. The Washington Monthly used data from the All In Campus Democracy Challenge and the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement to compile its list of schools.
“I sense a lot of excitement around student voting engagement on campus, and I want to see that translate into voters at the polls,” said Karen Kedrowski, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics.
One of the criteria the university was required to meet in order to be listed on the Honor Roll is to submit an "Action Plan" to All In for both 2018 and 2020. Kedrowski led the development of the 2020 Action Plan, along with the student organization Vote Everywhere.
In addition to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Iowa State faces some challenges to student voting engagement. The 2020 Action Plan identified several of these.
According to the Action Plan, citing results from the National Survey of Student Engagement, Iowa State students have a lower rate of connecting their learning to social issues and less exposure to diversity when compared to their peers at other universities. The Action Plan also listed the campus climate and a lack of widespread civic ethos as potential hurdles.
Despite these challenges, Kedrowski highlighted a number of efforts on campus to increase both voter registration and voting turnout.
“Distributing voter registration forms in residence halls, fraternity and sorority houses and in high-traffic areas on campus,” Kedrowski said. “Voter registration drives on campus by student organizations and the Catt Center and League of Women Voters.”
Other efforts on campus include sending all-student emails and social media posts with registration information, publicizing candidate debates and forums and publicizing ways to vote in the Ames area and by absentee ballot.
Kedrowski said there was an 18 percentage point increase in turnout between 2014 and 2018 — two midterm election years, which traditionally have a low turnout. Kedrowski said the increase was “huge.”
A number of other student and outside organizations are involved with campus efforts as well, including Iowa State Student Government, NextGen America, Turning Point USA, and the College Democrats.
Student Government has sponsored and regularly updates a website with voting information for students at Iowa State.
“Encouraging our students to vote and helping them navigate what can be a strange, complex and intimidating process for a new voter is a community responsibility,” Kedrowski said. “Let's do what we can to ... communicate why it's important to vote for someone with their racial, sexual and religious identity, their ideological perspective, their major and intended profession and direct students to accurate information.”