DeKALB — Chief of Staff Matt Streb discussed NIU’s participation in the Democracy Challenge, a bipartisan approach to increasing voter registration and voting turnout, Friday in the Holmes Student Center Capitol Room for the Huskies Vote luncheon.
The ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge is a national awards effort that recognizes colleges and universities for increasing student voter rates, Streb said. NIU, specifically, has the goal of increasing the percentage of students who registered to vote from 72.6% to 80% and increasing the percentage of students who actually voted from 38.5% to 50%. This data was collected based off of the NIU voter participation rates in the 2018 midterm elections.
“I want to see how I can get more involved in civic engagement,” Erica McFarland, academic adviser for the College of Engineering, said. “I also wanted to see what NIU’s doing in their efforts to get more students involved.”
Currently, 18 campus partners, such as CHANCE, University Honors, and the Student Government Association, are involved with the Democracy Challenge. The three requirements to be a campus partner is to have available information on voter registration made accessible to students in central locations, to place signage about voter registration information in a visible location, and have at least one staff member trained to be a deputy registrar. Fourty NIU employees are currently trained to be deputy registrars.
“One of the things that concerns me that often happens when you see civic engagement initiatives, is the focus on registration," Streb said. "The problem is if we get you to register to vote and you don’t vote, we really haven’t done anything except put a lot of time and effort into something that wasn’t particularly effective.”
Streb said the Student Association is also dedicated to engaging more students in encouraging their peers to both register and turnout to vote.
While encouraging students to register to vote and to turnout to vote is the goal of this initiative, an audience member asked about undocumented students and what they should do if they are ineligible to vote.
“Do not encourage undocumented students to vote because if they register and they are ineligible to vote, it could have negative repercussions,” Streb said.
The program “Love Vote” is a platform for Americans who are ineligible to vote. They post their stories on thelovevote.org to move others to vote on their behalf.
“You kind of shift the emphasis — I can’t vote but you need to vote," Laura Vazquez, undergraduate program director for the Department of Communications, said. "So you shift the emphasis off the person who can’t vote and [create it into] a positive force for voting."
People can participate in the Democracy Challenge initiative by joining a subcommittee — communication, curriculum, events, and voter registration are the four subcommittees — becoming a deputy registrar or election judge, or by providing information on voter registration to others.