College of Business > News & Events > Voter Registration Genius Project Seeks to Boost Student Voter Rates
By Robin Florzak /
September 28, 2020 /
Posted in: Faculty, Students /
A team of DePaul University faculty, staff and students have embarked on a new project to increase the number of DePaul students registered to vote.
The initiative pairs students trained to be “Voter Registration Geniuses” (VRGs) with students seeking to become registered voters. The VRGs meet online with their peers to walk them through each step of completing voter registration forms and requirements for the state in which they want to vote, often their home state. The goal is to boost voting rates among students and create lifelong voters.
Research shows that personal help with voter registration has much greater impact on the rate of student voting than merely urging students to register and vote, according to
Nina Diamond, marketing professor emerita, who is spearheading the initiative with Marie Donovan, associate professor of early childhood education.
“Less than 50 percent of students vote in the general election and the rate is even lower for the midterm elections,” Diamond says. “It turns out that it’s not that they don’t care. It’s because they are not registered. And they are not registered because they aren’t sure how to do it. They see it as time-consuming and difficult, and they may not know the requirements or how to complete the online forms,” she explains. “When students are registered, approximately 70% of them vote, so it makes a big difference.”
“This is where we come in, in a very Vincentian way,” Donovan says. “The Voter Registration Geniuses reach out to unregistered students, or those who don't yet have mail-in ballots, and provide individual guidance in getting through the process immediately during a phone call or Zoom or FaceTime session. It's quick, reliable and very rewarding to feel you've conquered some aggravating website and can exercise your fundamental right as a citizen.”
Diamond emphasized that the project is nonpartisan. “We want everyone to vote and to think of themselves as a voter.” She says the initiative follows a model developed at Northwestern University by engineering professor Michael Peshkin and the University’s Center for Civic Engagement. Peshkin, a leader in the student voter engagement movement for more than 15 years, advised the DePaul project team.
In the absence of in-person student registration education events at DePaul, the VRG project advocates have been promoting the initiative through Zoom presentations in online classes this fall. Diamond and Donovan, Summer Brown, executive director of the
Institute for Business and Professional Ethics, and Leah Bryant, associate professor of communication studies, are among faculty and staff who have volunteered to make these presentations. Their brief talks cover the basics of voter registration and mail-in voting and encourage unregistered students to contact student VRGs to get help in completing their registrations. Premier DePaul orientation leaders also have been enlisted to spread the word among new students.
Nashra Mohammed, a junior business major involved in student government, who worked with Diamond on the initiation of the VRG project, is also helping to promote it. She is president of Ignite, a DePaul student organization for women who seek political leadership, and she has run for office herself as a candidate for the Niles school board.
“This election will change people’s lives,” Mohammed says. “It’s really important that students are voting and are civically engaged, and not just one time, but that they continue to do so.”
The VRG project is working in collaboration with
DePaul’s Voter Friendly Campus get-out-the vote effort sponsored by the Office of Student Affairs. “DePaul students, faculty and staff have been wonderful,” Diamond says. “Everybody has been behind this effort.”
Faculty members who would like to host a virtual class presentation about the VRG project should email