10 Creative Ways Colleges Are Getting Out the Vote

As this year's presidential election comes down to the wire, with no clear majority asserting itself for either candidate, the strength of get-out-the-vote (GOTV) operations are likely to become the critical deciding factor. President Obama's 2008 election was something of a children's crusade, with an unusually active youth vote making itself heard at the polls. Will those circumstances repeat themselves, or is the magic gone? Even if the youth vote were to be high again, could challenger Mitt Romney make some inroads himself with that student demographic? We'll know soon enough. In the meantime, America's colleges are doing their best to encourage civic participation regardless of schools - nursing, health, public relations, counseling, public relations. Here are 10 clever concepts administrators and students have come up with to promote that message:

  1. Bringing all political factions together at Duke University.

    In this divisive partisan climate we all bemoan, it seems that truces in the political food fight are few and far between. But at Duke (whose home state of North Carolina went for President Obama last time and is believed to be leaning barely toward Romney this time), the College Republicans, Duke Democrats, Progressive Alliance, Duke NAACP, Black Student Alliance, Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Council found something they could all agree on: the importance of voting. These groups cooperated, along with the nonprofit Vote for America, in a two-week registration drive to sign up as many voters as possible.

  2. Creating designs at the University of Kansas for a GOTV poster contest.

    The American Institute for Graphic Arts, a national trade association for designers, held a competition for the best nonpartisan Get Out The Vote posters. Patrick Dooley, a professor in KU's design department, made his students submit their own prototypes, and seven of his students created work that is now showing at the AIGA National Design Center in Manhattan (as in New York, not Kansas!) through November 30.

  3. Training election inspectors at the University of Rochester.

    Through the Monroe County Election Fellows Program, UR and other area schools (Roberts Wesleyan College, Monroe Community College, St. John Fisher College, and Nazareth College) are recruiting and educating students, not only to vote, but to become poll workers. In 2011 they had more than 200 volunteers engaged in the civic process as never before and are hoping to match or exceed that involvement this year.

  4. Visiting the University of Richmond with the 7-11 Tour Bus.

    This is the third presidential election in which the popular convenience store is conducting its informal "7-Election" poll, selling their coffee in Romney- and Obama-themed cups and adding up the totals. They've correctly called two out of two so far. Hitting the road in a tour bus with a replica of the Oval Office inside, they stopped for "COFfree Day 2012" at the University of Richmond in the critical swing state of Virginia.

  5. Holding an open-mic night at SUNY-Oswego.

    This branch of the State University of New York, right at the elbow of Lake Ontario, held an open-mic concert at its Lake Effect Cafe to promote voter registration. The show was part of a larger effort including a fashion show, a student debate, film screenings, and a "Show Your Pin to Win" party coming up on Election Night.

  6. Dedicating 15 minutes of class to registration at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

    In collaboration with nonpartisan nonprofit Kanu Hawaii, UH Manoa asked professors to give up 15 minutes of class time one week to allow volunteers to register students to vote and answer any questions they may have had about the voting process.

  7. Exhorting the faithful to vote at Liberty University.

    Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. spoke at the thrice-weekly Convocation that gathers the student body of the school his father started, to urge students to participate in the political process by registering to vote. Liberty students have been the largest voting bloc in Lynchburg, and are well-positioned to make a difference, as the state of Virginia is expected to be one of the two or three closest battleground states Tuesday.

  8. Deploying shuttle vans to polling places at Tufts University.

    Tufts straddles the towns of Medford and Somerville just outside Boston, and so student registration can be a little confusing, incorporating multiple precincts. Tufts Votes, a nonpartisan campus group, not only facilitates registration and voter education, it also offers transportation to the correct voting location for students who need a lift.

  9. Marching to the ballot boxes at Bethune-Cookman University.

    This historically black college in Daytona Beach, Fla., was founded by Mary McLeod Bethune, a young woman who "opened the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls with $1.50, faith in God and five little girls for students." Dr. Bethune saw her school through to the 1940s, when it became an accredited four-year college. Honoring her spirit of tenacity, public service, and commitment to equality and justice, about 1,800 B-CU students marched in unison to the Volusia County Library for early voting. Also present was Dr. Evelyn Bethune, who was quoted as saying her grandmother "was carrying a picket sign when she was in her 70s. She would have been here today. This is what she worked for; for us to have the ability to exercise our civic responsibility without oppression."

  10. Bouncing in a moonwalk with the mayor of Minneapolis at the University of Minnesota.

    Now that is an unusual strategy ... and the picture of silver fox R.T. Rybak defying gravity in his "Vote or Die" shirt is pretty priceless. Those present at the Voterpalooza event could only join him if they registered to vote, as 354 student-citizens did. The event was sponsored by the Minnesota Student Association and the Black Student Union, and featured refreshments like cotton candy and popcorn to sweeten the dose of civic responsibility.