Every Thursday at 6 p.m. for the past few months, University of Wisconsin-Madison students from all corners of campus signed on to Zoom to tackle one of the nation’s most pivotal challenges: getting out the youth vote.
Despite the hectic semester amid uncertain pandemic, the BadgersVote Student Coalition was there each Thursday — breaking down low student voter turnout that plagues universities across the U.S. and brainstorming fresh ideas on how to combat the youth voting gap at UW.
“Every time that I have a meeting with our BadgersVote Coalition team, I’m reinvigorated all over again,” says Julia Warheit, a Democracy Fellow with the Campus Vote Project. “This work can be tiring and sometimes frustrating, but having a team like BadgersVote makes it that much easier… and I think that it [has] made the get out the vote effort stronger.”
The BadgersVote Student Coalition is just one part of the BadgersVote Coalition, a campus-wide effort out of the Morgridge Center for Public Service to provide students with everything they need to know to participate in their elections.
The BadgersVote Student Coalition has taken the lead on voter education initiatives on campus, triaging low student voter turnout with social media campaigns, student-led podcasts, virtual engagement events, Zoom conferences and everything in between to encourage the youth vote.
“You name it, we’ve been trying to get out the vote that way,” Warheit says.
Vote Everywhere Ambassador for the Andrew Goodman Foundation Shreya Bandyopadhyay says youth have become instrumental in Madison’s electoral process amid the pandemic.
UW students rose to the challenge of the nationwide poll worker shortage, making up a larger portion of Madison’s 6,000 poll workers than in a typical election year. BadgersVote is responsible for recruiting 673 student poll workers in Madison through its National Voter Registration Day and Zoom the Vote events.
Bandyopadhyay sees students’ willingness to fill in the poll worker shortage as a positive indicator toward increased civic engagement among youth.
“I hope that people carry on that energy throughout their lives,” Bandyopadhyay says. “I think poll working and volunteering and all these different things are just one step to being civically engaged for your entire life.”
Warheit says it is crucial that students continue to advocate for themselves and other youth in voting to ensure students’ voices are elevated. For those who are unsure about voting or apathetic towards the electoral process, Warheit feels youth hold the most power to convince other people their age that their vote matters.
Warheit believes COVID-19 will permanently impact civic engagement in the younger generation. From her work with BadgersVote on campus, Warheit saw students were passionate about civic engagement and believes this year provided an outlet for students to use their passion.
“I think it has been a great year for Madison students getting involved in the get out to vote process,” Warheit says. “I hope that people will continue to be impassioned about the subject and see how important it is to use their voice.”
Bandyopadhyay says COVID-19 has proved the younger generation’s ability to band together and overcome challenges within the electoral process. With the willingness to challenge the status quo, Bandyopadhyay believes youth can transform their advocacy into tangible change by voting.
Whether it is through sharing information on social media, volunteering on the ground or simply voting, Bandyopadhyay says every civic engagement effort makes a difference in ensuring the youth voice is heard.
“We’re not going to keep on letting the same problems that have plagued our generation impact the next generation,” Bandyopadhyay says. “We could maybe let them go to the next generation, but we’re not going to because we have the ability to stop them, and with that ability comes voting.”
In Wisconsin, students can register at the polls on Election Day and still get their vote in. Text “BadgersVote” to 56525 or check out vote.wisc.edu for more information on how to vote this Nov. 3. Follow the BadgersVote social media platforms to see the youth get out the vote effort in action.