Voting in college is complex — not only is it many students’ first time voting, but everyone is from a different state with different rules and deadlines. Ahead of the 2016 US elections, my partner Mulan MacDougall and I wanted to do something to make sure that all students participated in the election.
First, we interviewed dozens of Stanford students about their voting experience. We also delved into the social science research on voting habits.
We found that college students lack support and accountability when it comes to voting. Despite living just a few feet from each other, they often go through the registration and voting process alone. Also, unlike anything else in Stanford students’ lives, no one holds them accountable to whether they vote or not. We wanted to transform voting from a solitary chore into a community experience.
Our goal was to get people to step up and talk about voting, sign up to vote, and show up at the polls.
We designed the signs using the latest social science research on voter habits. They signs said “[Student] is a voter” not “[Student] votes” because people are more likely to act when something is tied to their identity rather than their actions. We also used signs because they act as public accountability. No one wants to show up on June 8th to a room that says “I voted on June 7th.” Finally, there is a call to action — a QR code that helps others register.
We launched the pilot in two dorms on campus ahead of the primaries.
We raised money from Stanford in Government, the Haas Center for Public Service, and the Stanford Product Design Department to fund the project. We designed thousands of signs, stickers, and instructional booklets. We recruited 41 Voter Champions in 25 dorms. Our program reached over 3,000 students.
We were featured on the front page of the Stanford Daily, and the project was responsible for over 1/3 of voters who registered while they were at Stanford. It also sparked conversation about voting around campus. We achieved our goal: to transform voting from a solitary chore into a community experience.