As voters and volunteers, Emory students engaged deeply with 2020 election

Emory Report | Nov. 6, 2020

Students in masks give out t-shirts on the quadrangle
A student holds up a sign around his face that says "#EmoryVotes"
A student in a mask shows his voter sticker
A student in a mask shows his voter sticker
A student wearing a mask holds up a sign that says: "I'm a Georgia voter"
Two side-by-side Instagram stories of Oxford College students who voted
Two side-by-side Instagram stories of Oxford College students who voted
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The nonpartisan Emory Votes Initiative promoted civic engagement across Emory’s campuses. Whether voting early or on Election Day, students were eager to show their political participation.

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Even amid lingering uncertainty over 2020 election results, one outcome was immediately clear — at Emory University, student engagement in this year’s election cycle was up.

Emory was among the nation’s top 10 colleges and universities to engage with TurboVote, an nonpartisan online platform that helps register, inform and educate voters. With nearly 3,000 participants who signed up to use the service, Emory placed seventh in voter engagement and 10th in the overall percentage of campus participation, according to TurboVote.

While a majority of Emory participants were students, the turnout also included faculty and staff, who were encouraged to use the service through the Emory Votes Initiative (EVI), which promotes civic engagement across Emory’s communities by providing nonpartisan voter information and support for voter turnout.

As the nation awaited full election results, Emory President Gregory L. Fenves sent a message Wednesday to the university community praising campus engagement and noting that it is “important to recognize that the democratic process has flourished in 2020.”

“Record numbers of voters turned out here in Georgia and across America to cast their ballots,” Fenves said. “Emory students, faculty and staff played a major role in civic engagement at our university and I couldn’t be prouder. It’s deeply inspiring to see the ways that you shared your voices and got the word out, even when meeting in person was all but impossible.” 

With a “huge election cycle” that included the presidential race and closely watched U.S. senate and congressional races, campus interest in the election ran high this year, says James Roland, senior director for the Center for Civic and Community Engagement, who worked with EVI. 

That inspired broad voter engagement, he says, with students on both Emory’s Atlanta and Oxford campuses volunteering to help with EVI. From serving on steering committees and managing social media and voter awareness campaigns to coordinating transportation to the polls, student organizations actively partnered to help with efforts to register and inform voters, including both the Young Democrats of Emory and Emory College Republicans student groups.

As a citizen of Great Britain, Emory senior Hayden Davis wasn’t allowed to vote in the 2020 election. But that didn’t stop him serving on the EVI steering committee to help register and educate new voters.

“I’ve always loved the U.S. — I have a giant American flag hanging over my bed — and hope to be able to live and work here,” says Davis, who is studying political science at Emory College with plans to attend law school. “And while I can’t vote, I decided to do what I could to make up for that.”

Path to the polls

The Emory Votes Initiative provided extensive resources to help students, faculty and staff find their path to the polls. 

In addition to promoting the TurboVote online tool, highlights of EVI’s many efforts included voter registration information, the National Voter Registration Day celebration, information on voting by mail, free shuttles to early voting locations near the Atlanta and Oxford campuses, online peer workshops, online election events and debate watch parties, voting-related volunteer opportunities and a faculty toolkit. 

Visit the EVI calendar for upcoming events analyzing the results and impact of the 2020 vote.

To encourage all employees to exercise their right to vote, Emory employees could take up to four hours of paid time for voting, either for advance/early voting or on Election Day.