Whose job Is It? Students and voter registration

The Higher Education Amendments of 1998 added a new provision to the Program Participation Agreements that requires institutions to make a good faith effort to distribute voter registration forms to each student in attendance. The 2008 Higher Ed Amendments considers an institution in compliance for each student whom the institution electronically transmits a message containing a voter registration form acceptable for use in the State in which the institution is located, or an internet address where such form can be downloaded, if such information is in an electronic message devoted exclusively to voter registration.

What the amendments do not say is who on campus is responsible for keeping your institution compliant. Is this a Student Affairs responsibility? Admissions? Maybe, if an institution knew more about the voting habits of its students it could better determine what office is more effective at registering eligible voters.

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE)’s National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE) is making this possible. This study is both a service to campuses and a significant research initiative on college student civic learning and political engagement. To date, nearly 400 campuses nationwide have signed up to receive a tailored report containing aggregate student registration and voting rates (see sample here). These reports show how many students are eligible to register to vote, how many registered, and how many voted. It also reveals voting patterns broken down by age, class level, field of study, gender and race/ethnicity.

The obvious question is “How do they gather this information on an institution’s students and, once gathered, how do they maintain students’ privacy?”

NSLVE researchers show impressive attention to preserving student privacy. When an institution joins this study, an authorization form is signed allowing the National Student Clearinghouse to match student enrollment records (which you already provide) with public voting records.  The Clearinghouse then de-identifies these records before sending them to CIRCLE for analysis. The reports sent to your institution are confidential and sent to only one designated individual at each campus.  This process ensures the protection of students' privacy while also providing institutions with an opportunity to learn about students' voting behaviors--voting behaviors that could answer the question, “Whose job is it to register eligible student voters?”

To participate, simply sign an authorization form and follow the submission instructions on the form. Please note: You must submit the form by August 3, 2014.  Questions? Contact Margaret Brower at CIRCLE.