PARTNER SPOTLIGHT: University of Chicago

By Shree Shah, Democracy Works Summer Associate, TurboVote

This past 2015-2016 academic year, the University of Chicago put forth tremendous effort to increase voter engagement and registration on campus. With the help of the Institute of Politics (IOP) and the IOP’s Adam Reynolds, UChicago was able to sign up a record number of its students for TurboVote. On the smaller side of a medium-sized campus, they knew that on-the-ground bottlenecks would work best for their campus. As a result, they planned multiple tabling events and challenges in high traffic areas. UChicago’s success is a testament to what a strong civic engagement strategy can do with the help of TurboVote.

Each fall, most colleges go through a freshman orientation program, and UChicago capitalized on this process by registering a greater number students than any other time of the year. Unsuspecting first year students filed into the Reynolds Club to return academic forms. After they finished this process, they were funneled into another line in another room. At the end of the line, they had waiting for them, a gift bag and computers. Each student received their Class of 2018 gift bag, and was then guided over to the computers that had the UChicago TurboVote co-branded site on the monitors. One by one, with the help of Adam and other IOP volunteers, the incoming class signed up for TurboVote. As UChicago’s numbers demonstrate, catching students during a mandatory orientation event can be extremely valuable.In that one event, UChicago signed up 459 students, nearly one third of the incoming class! 

At UChicago, students are separated into different figurative houses, which are located in one of the dorms. Students are extremely loyal to their given houses, which are the source of age-old rivalries. As a result, one of the most successful events this past year was the inter-house challenge. In the winter, each house was given a unique referral code and the house with the most TurboVote sign-ups won a pizza party. Through this effort, the IOP was able to register an additional 200 students!

As any administrator knows, students are constantly online in some capacity. So, UChicago implemented a few digital strategies on campus. Periodically, emails were sent out to the student body encouraging them to get registered to vote and then to actually vote. The university’s social media accounts were also utilized, as they have a large follower base. Lastly, the IOP placed a call to action on their website that linked to the UChicago TurboVote co-branded site.

Having primaries throughout the course of the year definitely helped increase the number of students that wanted to get registered to vote. And, after a full year’s effort, UChicago was able to sign-up about 1,000 students (up from 630 registrants in the previous year)!