Encourage students to volunteer in campaigns

Students can multiply their impact by volunteering with partisan or nonpartisan campaigns of their choosing. Encourage them to volunteer for campaigns and initiatives on Election Day and in the period leading up to it. Talk about how they can multiply the power of their individual vote by enlisting others or by being poll workers.

Electoral engagement efforts sponsored by schools have to be meticulously nonpartisan, but students can learn valuable skills and make an important impact if you encourage them to embrace their own beliefs and act on them, particularly since patterns of early civic involvement tend to stick.

Encourage Students
  • Make information about on- and off-campus volunteer opportunities widely available — making sure to give equal visibility to contacts for both major parties. If third or fourth party candidates have a significant electoral presence, provide their campaign information as well.
  • Promote volunteer opportunities not just with political parties, but with grassroots groups such as student PIRGS, or campus affiliates of the NAACP, Tea Party, NARAL Pro Choice America, National Right to Life, etc.
  • Discuss races decided by as little as a few hundred votes, where grassroots volunteers helped tip the outcome. In 2013, 165 votes decided Virginia’s Attorney General’s race. In 2000, in Florida, 537 votes decided the presidency. In New Hampshire, in 2016 1,017 votes. decided a U.S. Senate seat. In 2017, control of Virginia’s House of Delegates was decided by a coin flip, because the key district was tied after recounting the votes.
  • Encourage students to knock on doors, make calls, or volunteer as poll-watchers and play a critical role by getting people to vote that might otherwise stay home.
  • Most campuses have College Democrats and College Republicans clubs, and sometimes Libertarian and other third-party organizations. Talk to the leaders of these organizations and get a schedule of their upcoming events and volunteer opportunities. Then distribute this information to students interested in volunteering. When students do volunteer encourage them to report on their activities in classroom or other public presentations.
  • Remind students that not only can they volunteer in their own states, but they can volunteer by telephone to help engage voters in other states, either with particular campaigns or allied partisan groups like MoveOn or Tea Party Patriots
  • If graduates of your school hold electoral office or are running for office, invite them to speak at forums along with their opponents.

Remind students that they can volunteer in their own voice and express their own feelings.

  • If they’re ambivalent about the candidates for a key office, but still prefer one over the other, suggest that they volunteer. They can voice their mixed sentiments to voters — acknowledging areas where they have differences yet describing why their candidate is still worth electing. This is likely to draw much greater participation than if students feel they have to embrace a set “party line.”
  • Encourage students to join your campus non-partisan campus engagement teams. Many students will prefer to work on getting their fellow students to vote and not have to publicly promote a particular candidate. Those are the ones you’ll want to recruit for your teams.
  • Ask faculty to require students to choose partisan or nonpartisan campaigns to volunteer with and report back on through journals, papers or classroom presentations.
  • Faculty absolutely can’t mandate particular partisan allegiances when they do this. They have to encourage all students, whatever their perspectives. But they can encourage students to select campaigns that resonate with the students’ own individual values and encourage them to give voice to their convictions. Having students with differing partisan views volunteer and report back to the class can be particularly educational.

Reach out to a variety of student organizations, not just campus political groups.

  • Approach your College Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, etc, and encourage them to collaborate on your nonpartisan campus efforts. It’s a great way to model cooperation.
  • Be sure to also reach out to groups like disabled students, veterans, LGBT students, commuter students on residential campuses, and students involved with campus multicultural or diversity centers.
  • Encourage these students to hold forums and educational events for the general campus, as well as reaching out to their own specific groups. If you have living/learning communities have them make election-engagement a core common theme.
  • Encourage students to sign up to volunteer or work as poll-workers. Work with your local county clerk to arrange this.
  • Law students can volunteer for the national nonpartisan Election Protection voting rights hotline.


  • A professor at Ohio’s Baldwin Wallace University required her leadership students to volunteer with a campaign of their choice. She gave them contact information for the Democratic and Republican field offices and for the nonprofit Greater Cleveland Voter Registration Coalition, then required them to volunteer for 15 hours with a local, state, or national campaign of their choice, (including ballot initiatives), or for a nonprofit group engaging in election-related activities. Students logged their experiences in journal entries, providing details about what occurred, the participants, and their impressions. After the election, students wrote a paper evaluating their experiences.
  • Every vote counts. A student at Connecticut’s Wesleyan University registered 300 of her peers in an election where her congressman won by only 21 votes.
  • Local elections can be opportunities for students to get involved and have a huge impact, because turnout tends to be low. They could even run themselves, like a 22-year-old College of William & Mary senior who was elected to the Williamsburg City Council with the help of his fellow students, and a recent James Madison University graduate who was re-elected to his second term.
  • Penn State New Kensington proved they might be a small campus, but they were mighty in registering student voters. Students formed a group, My Vote Matters, which was responsible for connecting local politicians to the campus and registering over 10% of their campus for the 2016 spring primary.
  • The University of Pittsburgh office of PittServes hosts an annual Pitt Make a Difference Day (PMADD) - the University’s largest day of service. CEEP Fellows and student volunteers used CEEP’s Campus Community Partnerships model as inspiration, and began planning for PMADD in early September. In 2.5 hours, the students canvassed 400 homes to distribute CEEP’s nonpartisan candidate guides.