To increase student voter turnout, Hopkins recently partnered with TurboVote, an online voting registration service. Over 300 universities have partnered with TurboVote, which was created by nonprofit and nonpartisan group Democracy Works. Its co-founders wanted to create a way for people to be aware of election dates and registration deadlines, especially for local and special elections.
TurboVote’s services include walking students through the voter registration process, notifying students via text or email about upcoming elections in the district where they are registered, and sending absentee ballot request forms with a pre-stamped and pre-addressed envelope. TurboVote also has a free 24-hour hotline to answer any questions students may have about the voting process.
The process to register takes three to five minutes and is free of charge for anyone affiliated with the University.
Sophomore Class President Anthony Boutros, head of the Student Government Association (SGA)’s Civic Engagement Committee, helped implement TurboVote at Hopkins after he realized that many students had not voted in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections because they had missed the voter registration deadline.
“I was like ‘this is unacceptable,’” he said. “It is a fundamental right and responsibility of people to vote when they live in a democratic institution.”
Boutros has been working with SGA for over a year to get TurboVote approved at Hopkins. The program, which costs $2500 for this academic year, was financed partially by the Office of Student Life and partially by the SGA.
In an email to The News-Letter, Gia Grier McGinnis, the interim director for the Center for Social Concern (CSC), addressed SGA’s role in implementing TurboVote at Hopkins.
“Student leaders in SGA’s Civic Engagement Committee are the reason why we have this amazing tool,” she wrote. “TurboVote was used on many other campuses and was an easy to use and highly successful way of getting eligible students to vote.”
Grier McGinnis also discussed the role that CSC will play in promoting TurboVote in the future.
“The administration has already been supportive of other civic engagement efforts and this is just one more pathway for students to be energized and engaged about the social and political issues impacting their communities,” she wrote.
Statistically, voter turnout for younger generations has been significantly lower than others. Boutros believes that TurboVote will fix some of the underlying causes of this disparity.
He also noted that turnout for state or special elections is lower than turnout for general elections, especially among university students. He believes that this is partially due to students’ distance from home.
“It’s easier when you are established in a community and have been there for 30 years to vote in a local election or a state election, than when you know you’re moving around a lot, you’re starting out in a job or university,” he said.
Boutros discussed the differences in voter registration requirements in different states. He noted that many students do not know how to register to vote or to request an absentee ballot.
“With all these regulations and variability it becomes more cumbersome, and we don’t take the time to do it because we see it as a net loss,” he said. “TurboVote addresses it and makes it a net gain.”
Boutros urged students to take advantage of TurboVote in an effort to impact political decisions that directly influence their lives.
“Politics is exceptionally important in all areas of everything that we do, and it is necessary for us to use our agency and make our voice heard in these decisions,” he said.
Freshman Class President Sam Schatmeyer, who has also been working to implement TurboVote at Hopkins, believes that the service will help Hopkins students be more politically active.
“Programs like this, that make it really easy and intuitive on an online platform, really help increase youth voter turnout,” he said.
Schatmeyer believes that voting is the easiest way for students to get politically involved and that they therefore are obligated to vote.
“To be left out [of voting] is to be left out of the decisions that are going to affect our lives every day,” he said.
Sophomore Victoria Li, the president of Discourse, a student organization which holds Oxford Union style debates on political issues, praised TurboVote.
“That very much speaks to the mission of Discourse as well, because we want to allow different opinions to be heard, and the act of voting is you being present and saying ‘this is my opinion and I stand for it,’” she said.
Li believes that services such as TurboVote, which help keep users politically informed, are an important step in becoming more socially active.
“To be politically active you need to understand what has been going on,” she said. “Then you can understand what needs to occur, in your own opinion, and then you can start fighting for it.”
SGA is in the process of familiarizing students with TurboVote and helping them register for its services.