Encourage students to volunteer in campaigns

Students can multiply their impact by volunteering with partisan or nonpartisan campaigns of their choosing. Encourage them to volunteer for campaigns and initiatives on Election Day and in the period leading up to it. Talk about how they can multiply the power of their individual vote by enlisting others or by being poll

Electoral engagement efforts sponsored by schools have to be meticulously nonpartisan, but students can learn valuable skills and make an important impact if you encourage them to embrace their own beliefs and act on them, particularly since patterns of early civic involvement tend to stick.

  • Make information about on- and off-campus volunteer opportunities widely available — making sure to give equal visibility to contacts for both major parties. If third or fourth party candidates have a significant electoral presence, provide their campaign information as well.
  • Promote volunteer opportunities not just with political parties, but with grassroots groups such as student PIRGS, or campus affiliates of the NAACP, Tea Party, NARAL Pro Choice America, National Right to Life, etc.
  • Discuss races decided by as little as a few hundred votes, where grassroots volunteers helped tip the outcome. In our 2013 off-year pilot, 165 votes decided Virginia’s Attorney General’s race. In 2000, in Florida, 537 votes decided the presidency. In Minnesota in 2008, 312 votes decided a U.S. Senate seat. 39 votes decided a 2015 Seattle City Council Election.
  • Encourage students to knock on doors, make calls, or volunteer as poll-watchers and play a critical role by getting people to vote that might otherwise stay home.
  • Most campuses have College Democrats and College Republicans clubs, and sometimes Libertarian and other third party organizations. Talk to the leaders of these organizations and get a schedule of their upcoming events and volunteer opportunities. Then distribute this information to students interested in volunteering. When students do volunteer encourage them to report on their activities in classroom or other public presentations.
  • If graduates of your school hold electoral office or are running for office, invite them to speak at forums along with their opponents.

Remind students that they can volunteer in their own voice and express their own feelings.

  • If they’re ambivalent about the candidates for a key office, but still prefer one over the other, suggest that they volunteer. They can voice their mixed sentiments to voters — acknowledging areas where they have differences, yet talking about why they still believe their candidate is still worth electing. This is likely to draw much greater participation than if students feel they have to line up behind a set “party line.”
  • Encourage students to join your campus non-partisan campus engagement teams. Many students will prefer to work on getting their fellow students to vote and not have to publicly promote a particular candidate. Those are the ones you’ll want to recruit for your teams.
  • Ask faculty to require students to choose partisan or nonpartisan campaigns to volunteer with and report back on through journals, papers or classroom presentations.
  • Faculty can’t mandate particular partisan allegiances when they do this, but they can encourage students to select campaigns that resonate with the students’ individual values, and encourage them to give voice to their convictions. Having students with differing partisan views volunteer and report back to the class can be particularly educational.

Reach out to a variety of student organizations, not just campus political groups.

  • Approach your College Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, etc, and encourage them to collaborate on your nonpartisan campus efforts. It’s a great way to model cooperation.
  • Be sure to also reach out to groups like disabled students, veterans, LGBT students, commuter students on residential campuses, and students involved with campus multicultural or diversity centers.
  • Encourage these students to hold forums and educational events for the general campus, as well as reaching out to their own specific groups. If you have living/learning communities have them make election-engagement a core common theme.
  • Encourage students to sign up to volunteer or work as poll-workers. Work with your local county clerk to arrange this. 
  • Law students can volunteer for the national nonpartisan Election Protection voting rights hotline.


 In 2008, a professor at Ohio’s Baldwin Wallace University required her leadership students to volunteer with a campaign of their choice. She gave them contact information for the McCain and Obama field offices and for the nonprofit Greater Cleveland Voter Registration Coalition, then required them to volunteer for 15 hours with a presidential campaign of their choice, a local or state election race (including ballot initiatives), or a nonprofit group engaging in election related activities. Students logged their experiences in journal entries, providing details about what occurred, the participants, and their impressions. After the election, students wrote a paper evaluating their experiences.

Every vote counts. A student at Connecticut’s Wesleyan University registered 300 of her peers in an election where her congressman won by only 21 votes.

Local elections can be opportunities for students to get involved and have a huge impact, because turnout tends to be low. They could even run themselves, like a 22-year-old College of William & Mary senior who was elected to the Williamsburg City Council with the help of his fellow students, and a recent James Madison University graduate who was re-elected to his second term.