Continuing the Work after the 2018 Midterms

November 7, 2018

It’s Wednesday. November 7. The day after. The dust has not yet settled on the midterm elections. There are recounts to complete and runoffs to be held.

Many of you have done an enormous amount of work to encourage students to vote. You have held events, organized registration drives, gotten people to the polls. So you might think I am going to suggest that you take a moment to step back, recover, reflect.

You would be wrong.

Instead, I am going to suggest that you look ahead and get right back to work. There are two reasons why now is the time not to slow down but to accelerate.

First, if you really want to maximize student voting participation, the work needs to happen way in advance. You can certainly increase turnout by doing a lot of things in the month or two before the election. But the evidence shows that student voting participation is increased the most when we integrate voter registration and information into campus systems and when we create campus climates in which discussion of public questions saturates all aspects of students’ lives. Changing systems and changing climates takes time, and we are just under two years away from the 2020 election.

Second, there is a lot more to democratic participation than voting. In a healthy democracy, individuals work together to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities that face their community. They deliberate on matters of import. They organize to inform others about important issues. They communicate their views to elected officials. They act not just on Election Day but all year round. They focus not just on the outcomes of elections but on the outcomes of policy-making processes, and they know how they can play a role in shaping those outcomes. If you want to engage students in that thoroughgoing vision of democratic participation, there is no need to wait around for any election cycle–and there is plenty of work to do.

Your work is to engage students in democracy. Our work is to help you do that successfully and effectively. To that end, we have collected a range of resources aimed at developing in students the knowledge, skills, and motivations for thoughtful and effective participation in our democratic republic. We hope they are useful.

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