Despite fewer people on campus, students in Pastor Center programs registered large numbers of voters in 2020

ASU students overcame the physical challenges of reduced on-campus traffic in 2020 to register large numbers of fellow students to vote and organize other successful voter engagement programs administered by the Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics and Public Policy.

A variety of voter engagement activities in 2020 contributed to an upward trend in ASU student voting that’s been ongoing since 2014, said Alberto Olivas, director of the center, which is based at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Voter education and engagement strategies are highly effective at increasing community and civic participation overall. Community and participation comprise two of the five core aspirations of the Watts College

This past fall, a team of students organized by the center registered nearly 1,600 students to vote between the start of the fall semester and election day in November, Olivas said.

For several months, ASU’s student Civic Engagement Coalition united leaders of several organizations to collaborate on student voter engagement campaigns. The coalition included the ASU Andrew Goodman Foundation Ambassadors, Undergraduate Student Government representatives from all four ASU campuses, Changemaker Central and others, Olivas said.

“The student civic coalition members were incredibly focused on aligning efforts toward student voter advocacy and civic engagement. They got all these leaders together and coordinated their campaigns rather than competing with each other’s events and programs,” Olivas said.

The coalition partnered with University Housing to train community support assistants (CSAs) to register students in on-campus housing to vote, either in Arizona or their home states, using a platform called TurboVote.

The coalition also partnered with Sun Devil Athletics to engage student-athletes to sign up so they could inspire other students to also register. Goodman Ambassador Olivia Miller, a member of the Sun Devil softball team, led that drive, incorporating help from athletics staff. Their efforts resulted in more than 400 athletes registered, Olivas said.

The office of Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who is a Watts College graduate with a master’s degree in social work, organized a voter outreach committee that invited two of ASU’s Goodman Ambassadors to serve. Hobbs’ office and the offices of the state’s 15 county recorders worked to produce presentations and answered questions from prospective voters.

Olivas said the committee focused on identifying and addressing barriers students face in registering to vote and casting their ballots.

Goodman Ambassadors negotiated an agreement with the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office to open voting centers on ASU campuses, Olivas said. Former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes also spoke at workshops the ambassadors organized.

The ambassadors and the Civic Engagement Coalition were featured in the initial issue of Public Service Review, a national journal on public service projects, particularly those conducted by young people.

Olivas said students’ diligent work to get out the vote among their peers has contributed to substantial increases in the numbers of students voting, which rose steadily between 2014 and 2018, according to statistics compiled by Tufts University in Massachusetts. Statistics from 2020 won’t be available for several more months, Olivas said.

The Pastor Center also used grant funding to conduct voter outreach targeting young people ages 16 to 25 who are neither working nor enrolled in school, known as “opportunity youth,” working with a Watts College-based organization called Opportunity for Youth (OFY). Outreach workers spent five months, from June to November, educating such youths about how elections work, who runs them and who are stakeholders in elections.

Their efforts got voter engagement messages to more than 33,000 such young people across the Valley, Olivas said. Twelve ambassadors directly contacted more than 9,600 young and first-time voters, he said.

“We trained and coached the youth voter outreach workers as they came up with their own strategies and plans to inform and recruit voters among opportunity youth,” Olivas said.

The year 2020 was tumultuous in many ways, Olivas said, and yet there are many accomplishments to be proud of.

“We have a lot to celebrate about related to the political engagement of young people and efforts to increase student voter registration and student voter turnout,” Olivas said. “As someone that has worked in the field of youth voter engagement for over 20 years, I can honestly say I have never before seen young people demonstrate this level of passion, activism and organizing centered around last year’s state and national elections.”

Mark J. Scarp