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Voting hubs bring democratic engagement to WSU

Box of "Cougs Vote" stickers.

Washington State University is bringing democratic engagement to campus with Election Day voting hubs.

The hubs are designed to make voting simple by providing a space where people can register to vote, learn about what’s on the ballot, and submit completed ballots. They are available on the Pullman and Tri-Cities campuses and are open to all WSU students, faculty, and staff, as well as community members.

The Pullman campus hub is organized by the Center for Civic Engagement and is open Nov. 1 from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. and Nov. 2 from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. in the Compton Union Building Junior Ballroom. The Tri-Cities hub is hosted by the Associated Students of Tri-Cities and is open Nov. 2 from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. in the Consolidated Information Center.

The hubs are part of Cougs Vote, which encourages democratic engagement among students and the broader WSU community.

“It’s exciting because our campuses are rallying around Cougs Vote and making that part of our WSU culture,” said Ben Calabretta, the associate director of the Center for Civic Engagement and the leader of its voting efforts.

Hubs help overcome barriers to voting

The voting hubs were created last fall in response to a Washington law mandating that all universities in the state open nonpartisan student engagement voting centers on campus on Election Day.

People who are eligible to vote but not currently registered can register at the hub on their campus; representatives from local county auditor’s offices will be present to assist with registration. The hubs will also have voter information booklets and computer stations where voters can log in to their state voter account and print off their ballots. Printed ballots can be filled in at private stations at the hubs and dropped into on-site ballot boxes.

Student and staff volunteers will be available to help people navigate the space and find the materials they need, Calabretta said.

“Having students be part of this process is one of our goals,” he said. “They can learn about the voting process and how it works at the hub, and they can get good volunteer experience.”

Volunteers will also help clear up any confusion around voting that students may experience – particularly students on the Pullman campus.

“Registering to vote can be a perceived barrier to students here because they may not know how it works or if they’re eligible,” he said. “Students who live in Pullman can register here. Students from other states, students who live in residence halls – they all live here and can register.”

More information on voter eligibility is available on the secretary of state’s election website.

Building a foundation of democratic engagement

Last year’s voting hubs were promoted as part of the Pac-12 Voting Challenge, in which each Pac-12 school competed to register the most students. The results were impressive: over 85 percent of eligible WSU students were registered to vote, and WSU students voted at a rate of nearly 73 percent. That’s an almost 22 percent increase from 2016 and is well ahead of the average voting rate of 66 percent across all U.S. higher education institutions.

“It is really encouraging that we had students voting at such high rates,” Calabretta said. “It demonstrates that Cougs not only care about issues, but they want to get involved.”

Although the challenge is over, representatives from each Pac-12 school are still meeting regularly to talk about how to engage students in the democratic process, Calabretta said. He is currently serving as co-chair of the group (now called Pac-12 Votes), which is working together to show students the importance of voting and build a foundation of lifelong democratic engagement.

 “Ultimately, we want students to be leaders in their communities, and being an informed voter is part of that,” Calabretta said. “Cougs Vote is part of learning how to lead.”

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