GUEST BLOG: Competition in athletic conference breeds voter registration enthusiasm

By Joseph Wozniak, Mercer University

For a little over two years, the TurboVote team has positively supported the voting culture on Mercer University’s campus. By providing my institution with a simple tool that allowed us to collaborate alongside each other, we rallied around the idea that voting should be simple for everyone—especially our students. 

What started as a partnership with TurboVote has turned into faculty-led discussions on the importance of voting and a newly crafted student organization devoted to nonpartisan voter engagement, Mobilize Mercer. In order to build up the movement, our team educated our peers on the importance of voting and the barriers that exist for students. To do this, we presented at faculty meetings, individually met with student affairs professionals, and most importantly, encouraged other students to become involved.

The team at Mercer just began leading an effort to expand these efforts across an entire athletic conference. Because Mercer developed a positive voting culture, our Vice President of Student Affairs, Dr. Pearson, reached out to his peers at the nine other schools in the Southern Conference to discuss a voter engagement competition. We utilized an existing network of competitors and convened a meeting of every school’s student affairs department in Asheville, NC, at the Southern Conference Basketball Tournament this past March. 

Before going into this meeting, Dr. Pearson emphasized the current nature of higher education professionals. They’re all incredibly passionate and constantly working to enrich students’ lives. However, they’re also overworked with new people bringing them new initiatives every week, expecting them to lead each one. Because of this, we had to make our pitch as simple as possible and provide a framework so each school could envision the structure.

Now, each of the ten schools—four public, four private, and two military schools—in the Southern Conference are participating in a four round competition designed to set up sustainable organizing teams and increase voter engagement. The four rounds are designed to help schools develop a voter engagement team, measure voter turnout from 2012 and 2016, and to create and implement a playbook to increase voter engagement. 

We used connections, camaraderie, and simplicity to develop this initiative. A competitive nature already existed among the schools in the Southern Conference. As a result, and because of Mercer University’s commitment to voter engagement, we were able to tap into the Southern Conference’s existing network. This helped us find equally passionate and committed individuals. By building a simple four round competition we’ve shown steps and provided appropriate deadlines for guidance to each school. Going forward, we’ll be sharing the playbooks, holding conference calls, and encouraging our teams to build a supportive framework around voting.