ASU student voter turnout has surged in the last four years

A new report shows more students are showing up to vote

ASU students have become more politically engaged in recent years, according to a report from the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education, an initiative at Tufts University.

The report, dubbed the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, found that 41.5% of eligible ASU students voted in 2018 — a staggering jump from the 19% of eligible students who voted in 2014.

Multiple groups throughout the state are focused on getting college students registered to vote, with the hope that it will increase turnout in both federal and local elections.

Emily Kirkland, co-director of ProgressNow AZ and member of One Arizona coalition, said the group tries to “meet people where they are” in local communities, including visiting college campuses during special events with voter registration forms to help students become registered at their new dorm addresses. 

“We encourage people to be a voter and vote in every election,” Kirkland said. “Because things just work better when everybody participates.”

Kirkland said that increasing voter turnout in elections involves finding ways to relate to specific communities and informing people how participating in elections can affect everyone. Young voters, she said, are often interested in issues such as climate change and student loans — topics that directly impact them in their day-to-day lives. 

The way students voted also changed, according to the report. In 2014, early voting accounted for 59.6% of ASU students, and 23.8% of the students voted on Election Day. In 2018, only 48.2% chose to use early voting, and Election Day voting jumped to 26.3%. 

Mail-in ballots doubled from 2014 to 2018, going from 7% in 2014 to 14.6% in 2018. 

Cyrus Commissariat, a junior triple majoring in political science, history and French, is the lead fellow for the Vote Everywhere program at ASU. The nonprofit program is part of the larger Andrew Goodman Foundation, which aims to boost student interest in political activism and social change. 

Commissariat said he and his peers participated in National Voter Registration Day in September by tabling outside one of ASU’s dorms to encourage students to register to vote.

“I think the way to get people involved is to try and find something they care about that’s in their community because the federal government does not actually interact with us that much in our daily lives,” Commissariat said. 

Simply being registered to vote, though, does not guarantee that people will actually participate in their local elections, said Alberto Olivas, the executive director of the Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service at ASU.

Olivas said one of the biggest issues for elections is making sure that voters are informed.

The increased turnout rate for ASU students that occurred in the 2018 midterm election, Olivas said, was "remarkable" and has to do with an increased awareness of what is happening around the world.

"What I've heard from both liberal and conservative students and a lot of independent students is that they feel very concerned across the board about the direction our country is heading, and they don't feel like they have the luxury of not participating," Olivas said. "The stakes are too high to sit it out."

Mariana Peña, a senior studying political science and president of ASU Young Democrats, said she wants to emphasize the importance of local elections and their impact on students at the University. 

She said local government positions are closely involved with the daily lives of students and that students who care about prices of housing, public transportation, student debt and more must get involved by voting.

“We’ve seen in previous years how one Congress member was trying to bar students with dorm addresses from voting," said Peña. "So you can see how the student vote is under attack, and I think a lot of students don’t realize how powerful their voice is because as you can see from the increase in voter turnout in 2018, we changed history.” 

Jeremiah Willett, a senior studying political science and the president of ASU College Republicans, said the student vote is important because the younger generation has their own ideas that deserve to be heard. 

“It’s important for young conservative college students to vote because we get to decide how American politics operate and how our Republican Party is shaped,” Willett said. 

Willett said he hopes that the work of College Republicans and other political activist groups at ASU have played a part in increasing students' civic engagement.

"Walking to class and hearing other students talking about who they’re going to be voting for, where the voting spot’s going to be and making sure students are registered to vote, I imagine that had a big effect," Willett said. 


Reach the reporter at erfontan@asu.edu or follow @EndiaxRain on Twitter.

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