Stanford Groups Recruit New Voters


  • Stanford Alumni Running for Congress who won their elections:
    • Josh Hawley (R) Missouri
    • Tina Smith (D) Minnesota

Stanford’s motto is “Die Luft der Freiheit weht” (The wind of freedom blows), yet historically voter turnout among the university’s students is far lower than the national average.

This fall, StanfordVotes seeks to change history.   

If you’re a student, you’ve probably heard Christina Li’s voice in White Plaza yelling, “Vote on November 6th,” or seen the myriad of “StanfordVotes” signs on bathroom doors, bulletin boards, and even on the screens of the gym elliptical machines. You may have received one too many emails from Antonia Hellman, including registration deadlines for individual states, links to TurboVote, and instructions on how to apply for an absentee ballot.

Since last spring, sophomores Li and Hellman have been co-directors of the student group Stanford in Government’s community service and voter engagement committee. They also have been at the forefront of StanfordVotes, an initiative born out of and funded by Stanford in Government. Their goal: get at least 1 in 5 Stanford students to vote.

Between Aug. 1 and Oct. 31 this year, 2,074 Stanford students registered through TurboVote, according to Hellman. That’s far above the 820 students who registered between a roughly comparable period, Aug. 1 and Oct. 20, leading up to the 2014 midterm elections.

Hellman believes many people don’t vote because they see the process as arduous.To make it easier, StanfordVotes has offered stamps, envelopes and free printing at the Post Office to registered voters. “We wanted to make sure that if you’re eligible to vote, there’s going to be no excuse not to,” Hellman said.

StanfordVotes put on multiple events to increase voter registration on campus, including the Party at the Post Office. More than 400 students showed up to register or mail in their absentee ballots, and the 200 In-n-Out burgers ordered were gone in the first 15 minutes. The organization also created a “Display of Democracy” structure in White Plaza on two occasions. The display consisted of a large board with the words, “Voting Matters to Us Because…”; Passerby were encouraged to write notes and post them to the board.  

StanfordVotes is impacting more than just students on campus; a robust list of Civic Engagement Volunteers, some of whom are from the Palo Alto area, have donated their time toward increasing voter turnout.

“We just put this in people’s faces so much that they couldn’t ignore it anymore without feeling like they’re failing their country,” Hellman said.

With the current heated political climate, it’s not just Stanford that’s mobilizing people to vote; It’s universities all across the country. For the past few elections, Stanford’s voter turnout has been lower than the national average. For instance, fewer than one in five Stanford students voted in the 2014 midterms; The national average was about 36 percent.

Hellman said, “We just put this in people’s faces so much that they couldn’t ignore it anymore without feeling like they’re failing their country.”

Given that so many Stanford students want to change the world, Hellman added, “They’re not actually doing it through participation and democracy.”

Some students, such as Noam Shemtov, a senior undergraduate double majoring in comparative literature and philosophy, thinks the university does not do enough to inform and instruct students on how to register to vote online or mail.

Shemtov cast his ballot today in the early morning hours at the Tresidder polling place. The Israeli-American, who holds dual citizenship, said he doesn’t participate in Israeli elections because they do not permit absentee ballots. He believes it’s his civic duty to vote in the U.S., especially since there has been a surge of public discourse to get youth to vote.

This midterm election, he said, is an opportunity to check executive power.

One measure that Shemtov was passionate about casting his vote on was Proposition 10, a California rent-control initiative. His mother is living in San Francisco, where rents are among the highest in the world.

Stanford student Roxy Bonafont said she filled out an absentee ballot in her home state of Texas “because I think my vote matters more there… I’d like to think Stanford’s student turnout would surpass the national average because we’re a group of people with a lot of resources, privilege, and education, and the least we should do is exercise our most basic civic duty.”

At 7:30 this morning, Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne led the way at the voting station at Tresidder Memorial Union. When asked if he had cast his ballot, Tessier-Lavigne promptly responded with a thumbs up. “Yes, vote!” he said.

Polling Facts:

  • Polling locations opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 8 p.m.
  • There were five voting locations on campus: Escondido Elementary School, Tresidder Union, Haas Center for Public Service, Stanford West Apartments, and Nixon Elementary School.

Other Local Efforts:

  • Student organizations have made strides toward simplifying the voting process for students to encourage turnout.
  •  Stanford Women in Politics shared a phone number students could text to ask any questions about the voting process, including how to submit an absentee ballot.
  •  In Palo Alto, the League of Women Voters  contributed to the StanfordVotes movement.

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