Engaging Student Newspapers In Elections
As the prime newspaper for your campus, you can play a key role in getting students to vote. The
national nonpartisan Campus Election Engagement Project has pulled together some suggestions
that we thought might help you do this. If you address candidates and issues well enough, students
are far more likely listen, respond, and participate at the polls.
So we hope you’ll cover the election in your paper, doing your best to make it as salient as possible.
Campus papers sometimes just cover elections in terms of specific news hooks, like a candidate who
makes a campaign visit to their campus, or who graduated from their school. But you can do a lot
more by being proactive–exploring the tangible differences between the candidates and how the
positions they take can have an impact on student lives. You also play a key role helping navigate
students through complex and daunting new voting laws. And announcing registration or get out the
vote drives where students have a chance to participate. All this helps create a campus climate where
students recognize how much their electoral participation can matter.
Students have repeatedly told us that they don’t vote “because the candidates and their ads are always
lying, so you don’t know their real stands.” You may be the only news source that they read and
consider credible, so you can help overcome this. You can do so by covering the differences in the
positions candidates have taken, both now and in the past; by clarifying complex and intimidating
voting and registration rules; and most of all, combating the cynicism that says participation doesn’t
matter. This could mean highlighting close races like the 133-vote Washington State governor’s race
in 2004, the 312 votes that decided Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race in 2012, the 76 votes that
determined control of the Washington State legislature in 2012, or the 743-vote New Hampshire US
Senate race in 2016. You can interview local and state-wide candidates, cover debates, and highlight
issues affecting your students.
One key way to highlight issues is to distribute or expand on the nonpartisan voter guides to some of
the major state-wide races that our outreach staffers will be sending to you and to your school.
Students have responded to them wonderfully, saying they allowed them “to actually see where
candidates stand, and break through the spin and the lies.” We’ve put a lot of effort into pulling
together stands from major media sources and nonpartisan research outlets. Our lead research spent 20
years as a senior editor and manager at Encyclopedia Britannica. So we’d be delighted if you wanted
to reprint them, as newspapers at many of our schools have done. Or you could adapt and expand on
them, using them as a basis for more extended discussion of candidate positions and stands than our
two-page format has room for (including pinning candidates down on areas where we had to leave
their positions unknown). You can also explore more local races which our project doesn’t have the
resources to cover. There’s no more important role in an election than to provide accurate information.
For your campus, you’re a prime trusted source.
In addition to exploring candidate stands, you can debunk misleading ads or statements, drawing on
resources like factcheck.org, politifact.com, or local media outlets that do a good job with their
You can also provide key practical information. That means walking students through often
daunting voting and ID rules, which students often find enormously confusing. Or furnishing
information on early voting hours and locations, and how to find their polling station, using
resources like vote411.org from the League of Women Voters. Our partner organization, Fair
Elections Legal Network has created excellent guides to the rules for every state.
Since students may be looking for ways to participate directly, it’s also valuable to highlight what
they’re doing on your campus to get their peers engaged. If your school has a nonpartisan election
engagement coalition (and if we’re working actively with your school, most will), you can
interview participants and promote its events. You can provide a forum for students to
passionately argue or debate in support of their respective candidates. Or you can interview
students from the partisan campaigns, exploring how their experiences converge or differ. You
could even follow the volunteering of a couple of individuals through the campaign.
You can also supplement your print reporting through helping cover the election through social
media. Here’s our guide to how students from Virginia Commonwealth University and Rhode
Island’s Roger Williams University did this.
However you approach the election, the more you do, the more students will understand why their
participation matters. You may well make the critical difference in whether they participate.
The Student PIRGs' New Voter Project supports massive registration and "get out the vote" drives and provides support and a national voice for student groups involved in the election. They also have their own modified version of the Rock the Vote online registration tool, which you should use if you have PIRG chapter on your campus.
Launched by the League of Women Voters Education Fund (LWVEF) in October of 2006, VOTE411.org is a "one-stop-shop" for election related information including:
- State-by-state voting and registration information, with requirements & deadlines
- Online registration tool,
- Polling place finder,
- Candidate and ballot information,
- Absentee ballot information
- Ballot measure information (where applicable)
- Early voting options (where applicable)
- Election dates
- Factual data on candidates in various federal, state and local races
- General info on such topics as how to watch debates with a critical eye
- ID requirements
- Polling place locations
- Registration deadlines
- Voter qualifications
- Voter registration forms
- Voting machines
- Free Voter registration tool that you can embed on your website blog, or Facebook page to allow students to register. You can also brand it with your school logo and track voter registration information. (For campuses with student PIRG chapters, use the similar PIRG tool below). For details on ways to use the registration tool click here
- Rock the Vote also has an excellent pledge to vote form with automated reminders
FELN and their allied Campus Vote Project is an excellent source on current voting rules, doing webinars and giving expert advice on how to work within them, as well as advocating for policies that expand the electoral franchise and challenging those that narrow it.
NonprofitVOTE.org - works on helping nonprofits understand all they can do to engage their communities in nonpartisan election activity. Their resources emphasize ways to integrate voter engagement into your organization's ongoing activities and services. If schools (or community groups that their volunteer centers serve) are unsure about 501(c)(3) guidelines, Nonprofit Vote is an excellent source.
Project Vote Smart gives users access to candidates' and representatives' biographies, voting records, interest group ratings, issue positions, public statements, and campaign finances.
Project Vote Smart's Easy Vote interactive online tool allows users to compare their and presidential candidates' stances on 13 different issues. The site also allows users to explore candidate's political background.
866ourvote.org, from the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, offers both a website and an toll free number to connect with voting rights experts who can advise you on issues relating to voter identification, registration rules and voter rights.
A new report, Got ID? Helping Americans Get Voter Identification provides an outline for how state and local organizations can stand up for democracy by helping voters secure the necessary ID. The report draws lessons from programs implemented by interviewees and details the best strategies that community groups are using to help voters ensure they’ll be able to vote
Long Distance Voter's website helps you get your absentee ballot in three easy steps. An excellent resource for students studying abroad!