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WGLT's reporting on the November 2020 election cycle.

B-N Colleges Compete To Get Students Registered To Vote

AP Photo/LM Otero
Karina Shumate, 21, a college student studying stenography, fills out a voter registration form in Richardson, Texas, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020.

Bloomington-Normal’s colleges are striking up a friendly competition to see which school can get the most students registered to vote ahead of the November election.

The “Blo-No Voter Registration Challenge” starts Tuesday and runs through Oct. 18, the last day to register to vote online in Illinois. Illinois State University, Illinois Wesleyan University and Heartland Community College are all participating.

“The total number of students registered on campus within this timeframe will be announced on Oct. 20,” said Katy Strzepek with ISU’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning. “The campus with the largest number of students registered through the competition will win the illustrious bragging rights and be named the voter registration champion for 2020.”

This isn’t the first time ISU and Heartland have used a competition to drum up support for voter registration. The two colleges competed during the 2018 primary election—a battle that Heartland won, noted Student Engagement Director Skylar Guimond.

Guimond said this election cycle could be even bigger for college-aged voters.

“Millennials are the largest population group in America right now, which means if they vote, they will have the biggest impact and the loudest voices in the 2020 election,” he said.

Indeed, millennials and some Gen Z teenagers comprise 37% of eligible voters, according to census data analyzed by the Brookings Institution. That’s roughly the same share of the electorate made up by baby boomers and pre-boomers.

Bevin Choban, coordinator of IWU’s Action Resource Center, said some underestimate the political power of young people.

“I think sometimes college students are more engaged than people realize,” Choban said. “People tend to paint with a broad brush stroke" that college students "aren’t either engaged in politics or are completely disillusioned by it.”

Data analyzed by the Pew Research Center show young voters actually outvoted boomers and older generations in the 2016 and 2018 elections.

McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael said when students register to vote makes a big difference in their experience come Election Day.

Michael said although grace period registration allows voters to register the day of an election, the process is easier for everyone if registration is completed early.

“I’m not complaining and we don’t make excuses, but we don’t like to see long lines and neither do you,” Michael said. “Getting registered to vote—when you can—really helps that, because the process takes 15 to 20 minutes by the time we check your IDs and everything, where if you get registered ahead of time, when you can, it takes five minutes to get through and vote.”

ISU’s Strzepek said the university is prioritizing technology and online voter registration to reach students, primarily with an application called TurboVote.

“Students can just log on and it will tell them whether they’re registered or not,” Strzepek said. “If they need to re-register, they can do that. It sends them a text message telling them where their polling place is, and they can check on their application to ensure it’s been received.”

Election officials noted that students who previously registered to vote may need to update their voter registration this year, if they so much as moved into a different dorm room across the hall. Students also can register to vote from their home address, and have a mail-in ballot sent to their local address.

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