Discover more from State of the Student Vote
It's more possible than ever to register every student to vote...
...and still harder than you think. When everyone registers for class online, it should be possible to get them registered to vote at the same time. But it takes more than just "flipping a switch."
It is nearly impossible to get through college in 2022 without using a learning management system (LMS). Canvas. Blackboard. Moodle. Oracle. If you are enrolled in college today, chances are you are using one of these systems.
Every student has to use their school LMS in order to take classes. Since that is where student eyeballs are, colleges and universities frequently use them to take care of a long checklist of things they need all students to do, like updating emergency contact information or taking required online trainings.
Some institutions have begun to use their LMS to help students fulfill civic responsibilities. Since 2017, students at Hobart and William Smith Colleges have to actively opt out of getting registered to vote in order to enroll in their classes. At the University of Chicago, registering to vote is part of the LMS annual checklist that students must complete.
These options are likely effective because they apply behavioral psychology research. Checklists and making a choice the default are enormously powerful tools for nudging pro-social behaviors like voting. We see evidence of their impact in the semi-public campus leaderboards that TurboVote puts out that consistently have universities that have integrated voter registration and readiness into LMS at the top of the leaderboard .
But there are major challenges that remain until every campus has a high quality option for doing an LMS integration that helps every student get registered and ready to vote. College and university presidents cannot “flip a switch” to turn on a voter registration integration in LMS and immediately get 100% of eligible students registered to vote. There is still a lot we don’t know about how this tactic works and what it would take to reach its full potential.
Why are many students still not completing the process even when it is the default? Why do we see lower impact of LMS integrations at community colleges and minority serving institutions? We don’t know how many of the students reached through this strategy actually end up on the voter rolls and how those rates compare to other strategies. What other tools should be combined with voter registration in LMS to help students update their mindsets and identities to include voting in every election as part of a new conception of self?
That’s why the Ask Every Student initiative recommends that every student spend at least three to five minutes of focused one-on-one or small group time getting registered and ready to vote even if the student has already completed or started their registration process online. Melissa Michelson’s research suggests this one-on-one outreach can also take place via virtual Zoom classes. This type of remote one-on-one video coaching has proven very effective in public health settings for issues like medication management and adherence.
Achieving the promise of integrating voter registration and education into every campus LMS is not just a design challenge. It requires support from LMS vendors, college officials and faculty, and civic tech non-profits, as well as academics to study how to maximize effectiveness. The student vote movement needs to get all these actors into alignment in order to achieve transformational change.
Important progress is being made in this area.
In some states, like Pennsylvania, the state election administrators have set up the online voter registration system in way that allows it to connect directly with an LMS. This dramatically increases voter registrations by reducing the need for any further follow up from students to complete the registration process either online or on paper (there are still 9 states without online voter registration!).
The team at VoteAmerica has been doing extraordinary work to build partnerships with several of the top LMS vendors and are working to roll out some dramatically improved options for campuses.
Ask Every Student has engaged a diverse group of over 200 campuses, including 24 extraordinary co-designers, in co-creating useful tools to register every student, including this excellent free Canvas module.
We are closer than ever before to achieving 100% student voter registration and readiness. Adding voter registration tools to every college LMS is part of the answer. But it is not as simple as a college president or a tech vendor flipping a switch. It is going to take coordinated and interdisciplinary efforts to design, implement, and research new practices.
The people with the skills and knowledge to do all these things are in this network. Our task now is putting the pieces together to achieve the kind of transformational change that is within our reach.
Let’s figure this out together!
Visiting Fellow, SNF Agora Institute
Consulting Community Scholar, UMD Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement