Colleges and universities across Florida are teaming up to promote civic engagement and register students to vote with the help of an innovative online platform called TurboVote.
The Florida College System announced a new partnership that will take the voter registration service to 28 state colleges, increasing the total number of participating institutions in Florida to 35.
Since 2012, more than 11,000 Florida students have used the TurboVote service through partnerships at colleges and universities,including those established at the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida and the Lou Frey Institute for Politics and Government at the University of Central Florida. Nearly 1,600 UCF students have registered for the service.
Former Florida Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham voiced his support Saturday for the bipartisan effort to institutionalize voter engagement on college and university campuses and noted that Florida is well positioned to lead the charge.
“I believe Florida has established itself as model for the rest of the country,” Graham said to an audience of more than 200 at the 2014 Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education Civic Learning and Democratic and Engagement Conference.
“By integrating the TurboVote service into critical student interactions we were able to register more than 3,400 University of Florida students last year,” the Democrat said. “We have seen first-hand the substantial impact this can have on youth engagement.”
Former U.S. Rep. Lou Frey, a Republican and longtime supporter of the TurboVote effort, echoed Graham’s sentiments on the importance of providing young people with easy access to the tools they need to be active participants in their democracy. Frey sponsored legislation leading to the adoption of the 26th Amendment in 1970s that lowered the voting age to 18.
“The adoption of TurboVote by the Florida College System provides a clear pathway for a lifetime of participation by the state’s youngest citizens,” Frey said. “I challenge every student to help shape the future of America by voting in every election.”
Florida’s higher-education institutions hope to break down barriers to youth participation in the democratic process, particularly around local elections. While nearly two-thirds of college students voted in November 2012, only 27 percent did so in 2010. And turnout drops even lower in primary and municipal elections.
“TurboVote’s role is especially important in the years between the presidential elections, where much of democracy happens on the local level,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, one of TurboVote’s early funders. “The lack of youth participation in local elections is not a partisan issue – it is a threat to democracy. To have a healthy democracy we need an informed an engaged public.”
According to a study by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, 27 percent of students who did not register in 2012 simply failed meet the deadline, and 23 percent of registered students did not cast a ballot because they were out of town or away from home. By helping students request an absentee ballot and sending text and email reminders with election dates and deadlines, TurboVote addresses logistical challenges that negatively impact youth participation.
TurboVote’s college partnerships program has grown to include more than130 institutions nationwide since its launch in January 2012.
To access TurboVote, go to turbovote.org/register.