Northeastern Votes aims to increase election turnout among students


Ioanna Ploumi

Northeastern Votes tables outside of Curry Student Center.

Annie Probert, news staff

A non-partisan coalition of students, staff and faculty is looking to increase voter turnout and engagement among Northeastern students during one of the most eventful election years in recent history. Dubbed Northeastern Votes, the initiative is co-led by the university’s Office of City and Community Engagement and the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy.

Hilary Sullivan, coalition co-chair of Northeastern Votes and director of Community Service and Civic Engagement at the university, said that while the term “Northeastern Votes” has been used by student organizations in the past, this coalition is in its inaugural year and strives to coordinate efforts to get Northeastern students civically engaged. 

“In the nine years I’ve been at Northeastern, I’ve noticed that there is not really a strategic effort to get students to vote,” Sullivan said. “Most of the efforts come up every four years when there is a national election, but this coalition is really passionate about wanting to bring together students, staff and faculty to increase Northeastern’s voting efforts in every election.”

Samridh Chaturvedi, chair of the Elections Committee in the Student Government Association, or SGA, and a second-year computer engineering and computer science major, said a member of Sullivan’s team reached out to SGA to assist her office in reviving the term Northeastern Votes into a coalition for the 2020 election in late June of this year. Coordinating the effort during the pandemic forced those involved to modify traditional voter engagement methods, he said.

“Planning around [COVID-19] made it super difficult because we couldn’t rely on the past work that people had done like in-person voting registration,” Chaturvedi said. “Everything had to be scrapped.”

While the campaign has tabled outdoors in recent weeks, Northeastern Votes has also been encouraging students via social media to cast their ballots. Roughly 25 student organizations have signed on in support of the coalition’s efforts, Chaturvedi said, and there are differing levels of support a member organization can offer, from simply forwarding Northeastern Votes information on social media to working closely with the coalition. The Northeastern University College Democrats are heavily involved in the alliance, Chaturvedi said, and the Northeastern University College Republicans recently signed on in support. 

“We wanted to make this a really social media-focused campaign because we thought that would work best for the [COVID-19] era,” Chaturvedi said. “Supporting organizations mostly just shout us out to spread the word. We want to get some clubs to do social media takeovers as well on issues that are important to them.”

The coalition has also worked to engage student organizations in fields of study whose members historically vote in lower numbers, like engineering and mathematics, Chaturvedi said. According to the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement, or NSLVE, Northeastern’s voting patterns revealed engineering students to vote at a rate of 53.5% and mathematics students 50.6%.

Despite college students nationally voting at a rate of 48.3% in the 2016 election, lower than the 61.4% national average, Chaturvedi said she finds Northeastern to be a “pretty politically engaged campus. The 2016 NSLVE report eligible Northeastern students voted at a rate of 56.9% in 2016. A main goal of Northeastern Votes is to boost voter turnout among NU students by 10 percentage points to at least 67%, Sullivan said.

To achieve this goal, the coalition has coordinated various voter registration and education programs for students. During a series of voter registration drives held by Northeastern Votes the week of Sept. 21, the coalition registered 150 students to vote, said Hannah Nivar, SGA’s executive director of communications and a second-year political science and international affairs major.

With many different voter education events occurring both on Northeastern’s campus and in the surrounding Boston area, Sullivan said another aim of Northeastern Votes is to simplify how students can find broader civic engagement initiatives and programming.

“Voter education is huge for college students, and there are so many different events about issues or candidates that happen on campus,” Sullivan said. “One of our goals is to collect all of those one-off events and advertise them together.”

With mail-in ballots growing in popularity due to the pandemic, Chaturvedi said Northeastern Votes is also trying to inform students on voting procedures they may not be familiar with. The university pays for a system called TurboVote to make the process of voting as a college student easier. Through the TurboVote site, students can enter the state they will be voting in into the online service and be walked through the voting process. TurboVote also includes options for email or text notifications with information on how to get an absentee ballot or reminders about upcoming elections.

Lily Elwood, a second-year journalism student, will be voting in Massachusetts by mail. It’s important for college students not to feed into the divisive rhetoric surrounding the validity of mail-in voting, she said.

“A lot of people think their vote doesn’t matter anyway, especially if you live in a state like Massachusetts that almost always votes Democrat, but it does in this election especially,” she said. “The vote is really in the young people.”

Nivar echoed this sentiment, saying that it is imperative for college students to exercise their civic responsibility to impact the future.

“We know a lot of societal problems are being passed onto our generation, but if we’re not having an input in political, social or economic matters now then someday we’ll be too old to change them because we didn’t start early enough,” Nivar said.

Chaturvedi said young voters need to ditch the “doomer mentality” of believing that their vote doesn’t matter. 

“The best way you can show your politicians you are important to them is by voting and that power is something I feel a lot of young kids don’t seem to be harnessing,” Chaturvedi said. “People need to realize that if you’re more involved with the electoral process, there are a lot of ways you can make a difference in society.”