In August 2017, the Center for Political Participation received Allegheny College’s National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement Campus Report that outlined Allegheny’s voting participation in the 2016 general election. While participation increased since the 2012 elections, the number of students who voted is still lacking significantly.
In November 2016, 53.2 percent of Allegheny’s student population voted despite 82 percent of our students being registered to vote. This number is 2.8 percent higher than the national average, but still significantly lower than the national high of 81.4 percent on a single college campus.While we aim for a 100 percent registration rate, Allegheny’s 82 percent is respectable.
The survey also breaks down voting percentage by class year. Of first-year students who matriculated in the fall of 2016, only 44.5 percent voted in the election. This is 10 percentage points lower than the sophomore and upperclassman turn out, with 54 and 55 percent of students voting, respectively.
During the fall of 2016, the CPP held several events meant to politically engage the campus community and inform students about the importance of voting in national, state and local elections. Consistently, our goal is to provide non-partisan information, resources and events for students and the community.
During this election cycle, our focus on registration drives, both on our own and in conjunction with the Andrew Goodman Foundation Fellows, seems to have made an impact.
Additionally, the CPP hosted presidential debate “watch parties” and a campus debate between College Democrats, College Republicans and Young Americans for Liberty.
While the CPP and other groups on campus have done a lot to try and improve the participation of students in elections, there are numerous obstacles in the way of voting in Meadville.
The campus is currently split into three polling districts, which means that not all students vote at the same location. This split in the polling districts prevents Allegheny from becoming a voting bloc in the county. By splitting the campus, it spreads our vote to remove any large effect on a single district. Also, the split makes it harder for students to find transportation because they might not be going to the same polling center as their friends. In an attempt to counteract this, the CPP provided transportation to and from all of the campus’ polling stations every 15-20 minutes on election day.
Another obstacle with the split in polling places is that students have to remember where to vote. Students register using the location of their current dorms and sometimes fail to remember which dorm they lived in when they registered. However, the state of Pennsylvania has a website that can tell you which polling station you have to go to to vote when you provide your name and birthday.
In order to alleviate some of the obstacles to voting, the CPP has considered possible solutions. For example, we could provide voter registration cards and information in easily accessible places around campus — Quigley, the Campus Center, the Library. The CPP tends to focus attention on larger voter registration drives, but it may be beneficial to provide these materials so that students can access them any time.
Additionally, in order to motivate more first-year students to vote, it could be helpful to host a voter information and voter registration event during orientation. By making an impact early on, we can reaffirm that Allegheny is a politically active campus and that voting is an important aspect of the Allegheny experience. Allowing CPP or Andrew Goodman fellows to introduce freshman seminar classes to the resources on campus and to the registration process would only continue to drive this point home.
As an organization, the CPP wants to continue to make an impact on political engagement among Allegheny’s students and will accept any recommendations on how it can improve.