How can faculty encourage students to vote?

The 2022 midterm elections will be held Tuesday, Nov. 8. Iowans will elect a governor and other statewide officials, a U.S. senator, four members of the U.S. House of Representatives and all members of the Iowa General Assembly.

In 2018, 43.4% of Iowa State students voted, an increase of 19% over 2014. However, voter turnout was not evenly distributed across campus. STEM students had lower voter turnout rates than average, while students in humanities and social sciences were well above average.

Helpful advice

During election season, the offices of university counsel and the senior vice president and provost remind faculty of campus policies and state laws regarding political activity and expression in their offices or classrooms.

What can faculty do to encourage eligible students to vote while adhering to university rules and state law and remaining nonpartisan? A lot. Here are some suggestions.

Download the Canvas module. The Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics has updated the module, "Ask Every Iowa State Student to Vote," found in the Canvas Commons and free. It's current and politically neutral. It provides information for students who wish to vote in Ames, Story County or elsewhere. It also links to nonpartisan resources about candidates and ballot questions. A couple of notes:

  • Faculty should not offer extra credit for registering to vote or casting a vote. This may be considered "vote buying" and legally is problematic.
  • Making the voting module an optional resource in Canvas does not violate the germaneness rule since the material is not integrated into course instruction. Nor does (not) completing it have any impact on students' grades.

Post voting messages on Canvas. If you don't want to use time before class, post an announcement on Canvas encouraging all eligible students to vote. You can do this without endorsing any party, candidate or ideology. The social media messages mentioned below can be adapted to this purpose.

Link to the Catt Center's Voting FAQs page on Canvas, your syllabus or web page. The Catt Center maintains a web page with current voting information for Iowa and links to resources for all other states, territories and the District of Columbia.

Add the #CyclonesVote badge to your email signature block. Link it directly to the Catt Center's FAQs page.

Use social media to send out voting information. Students working with the Catt Center have developed nonpartisan, nonideological social media messages that will be sent out periodically to all communications professionals on campus. Forward and share on your program and personal social media sites. Remember, anytime you reasonably appear to be speaking within your official faculty role, you should remain non-partisan.

Refrain from scheduling exams or major assignments on Election Day, Nov. 8. Last spring, the Faculty Senate, Student Government and Graduate and Professional School Student Senate each passed a resolution encouraging faculty to refrain from scheduling exams or major projects on Election Day and to be flexible with attendance policies to enable students to vote.

With the exception of 2020 (the pandemic election), most Iowa State students cast their votes in person on Election Day. This doesn't necessarily mean they're voting in Ames; they may drive to nearby cities and counties to cast their votes. We should be mindful of inadvertently putting up barriers to student voting, and scheduling exams or major assignments on Election Day is a possible barrier.

Make voting relevant to your discipline. One of the most important ways to encourage students to vote is to make voting relevant to their lives. As an instructor, you are a trusted and knowledgeable person who can help students see the relevance of their major -- and their passion -- and relevant government policy in several ways:

  • Talk with students before class about why you vote. Without sharing your vote choice, ideology or partisan affiliation, talk informally with students about why you, as a professor of "X," vote. Be sure to do so because of your interest in a relevant topic, without talking about your specific position or expressing preference for a party or candidate. Take this example and adapt to your situation: "I'm a business professor, which means I'm very interested in corporate tax policy. I always look up candidates' positions on this issue and take it into account when I vote."
  • Develop a germane class assignment or extra credit opportunity. Ask students to research candidates' or political parties' positions on the issue(s). The students will learn how to conduct such research by searching campaign web sites, news sources, professional association statements or interest group endorsements, and use this information to inform their votes. However, be sure to communicate to students that they should draw their own conclusions based upon the research they do and that they are not evaluated on their opinions or choice of candidate or party to support.
  • Work with your disciplinary student organizations. Work with the leadership of your departments' student clubs to devote time to talking about the election and its relevance to your field. Student organizations can invite student voting advocates to discuss absentee voting and voter registration. Students in #CyclonesVote, who are working with the Catt Center, can present nonpartisan, nonideological voting information.