The 2018 midterm elections represented a pivotal year for young people. With a record number of congressional seats open and a contentious and competitive political climate, this election represented high stakes for voters.
According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), less than 20% of young people ages 18–29 voted during the 2014 midterm elections, being “the lowest ever recorded.” This is further supported by the work of the Pew Research Center, who reported that voter turnout for ages 18–29 in the 2014 midterm election was the lowest compared to other age demographics. Additionally, the 2018 midterm elections represented a year that issues around gender, racial equity were key issues in the political races.
With this in mind, Towson University’s Office of Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility sought to put together a comprehensive educational program plan that would inform, educate, and empower Towson University students in the political process. It was also hugely important that the TU Votes initiative addressed both young voter turnout as well as some of those key political issues around gender and racial equity.
The Office of Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility, the Center for Student Diversity and Black Girls Vote, Inc. joined their efforts to directly address these needs through a truly unique set of programs. On Wednesday, October 24, 2018, Nykidra “Nyki” Robinson, founder and CEO of Black Girls Vote, Inc. led a campus lecture entitled “The Power of One Vote.” With 40 students and community members in attendance, Nyki touched upon the significance of voting, how voting blocs can control political agendas, and how political agendas control our everyday lives. Attendees left this lecture feeling energized and empowered.
On Thursday, October 25, Black Girls Vote, Inc. returned to TU for a campus-wide event, The Café Takeover. Student volunteers joined Black Girls Vote, Inc. staff and local radio station 92Q Jams Baltimore, for a “party” in the University Union, where student attendees could register to vote, print an absentee ballot, mail an absentee ballot for free, or get directions on how to early vote on campus. Students were able to learn about their power exercised through their vote. This campus takeover celebration not only happened at Towson University, but also at Morgan State University and other schools statewide. Through this collaborative effort, and the support of Tumblr who helped to fund these events, we were able to engage, educate, empower and mobilize over a thousand students across Baltimore—over 200 students at Towson University. In addition, statewide, the turnout during the first day of early voting increased by 106%, compared to the 2014 midterm elections!
Fast forward to today, we await the final registration and turnout numbers for the university through our participation in the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE), but several initial studies have shown a nationwide “unprecedented” turnout by college students during the midterm elections. CIRCLE reports a projection of about 31 percent of young people ages 18–29 voted in the 2018 election cycle—the “highest turnout rate in at least 25 years.”
While there is much work to do to make sure our community is ready for the 2020 presidential elections—placing special and needed focus on historically disenfranchised populations—we will continue harnessing these partnerships, as opportunities to truly uplift the power of our voices, and our votes.
About the Authors
As assistant director for Civic Engagement, Luis Sierra works closely with students, faculty and staff to create opportunities for both political and environmental engagement, empowering the Towson University community to educate themselves about the issues they care about, and turn their ideas and passions into meaningful action. As part of his role, he co-advises the Political Engagement Learning Community and coordinates voter registration efforts on campus. In addition, he represents the institution as part of the Civic Education/Civic Engagement Voting and Census Sub-Committee with the University System of Maryland. His professional career thus far has placed focus on leadership development and social responsibility, both in the higher education and nonprofit sectors.
Anee Korme, MA, MBA currently serves as the Associate Director for Student Diversity and Development in the Center for Student Diversity at Towson University. In this role she works to create a strategic plan to guide the African American Student Development Program serving over 4000 undergraduate and graduate students. Additionally she develops and presents workshops to help build cultural competency across campus and works to develop strategic partnerships with campus and greater Baltimore community partners. She has also serves as an adjunct faculty member teaching courses focusing on diversity and inclusion and as a private consultant helping organizations reach their diversity goals. On Towson’s campus Anee currently serves on the BTU Council, College of Fine Arts and Communications-CoLAB Committee, and the Academic Intergroup Dialogue Committee.