JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – In an attempt to address one of American democracy’s biggest problems – low and unequal voter participation that leads to low levels of engagement beyond college – the Southern Conference launched “SoCon Votes,” the first NCAA Division 1 conference championship for voter participation.
Concluding the first Division 1 Conference Championship for Voter Participation, East Tennessee State University claims the conference championship for “Most Improved Student Voter Participation” with a record-setting 25-percent increase in student voter participation from 2012 to 2016.
An awards ceremony for ETSU will take place during the first half of the school’s football game against SoCon rival, Wofford College, on Saturday, Oct. 28. Game time is 1 p.m. at William B. Greene Jr. Stadium.
The Citadel claimed the second place award, with efforts co-led by Dr. Dubose Kapeluck and Professor Brad Collins of the Department of Political Science. According to the NSLVE report, student voter participation rates increases from 44.8 percent in 2012 to 52.2 percent in 2016 – which represents a 17-percent improvement.
ETSU’s performance in the National Study on Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) report revealed an increase in student voter participation from 37.8 percent in 2012 to 47.3 percent in 2016 – which represents a 9.5-point improvement.
The ETSU team of faculty, staff and students tasked with overseeing this initiative was led by Dr. Carla Warner, director of Adult, Commuter and Transfer Services. The 12-member planning team was comprised of political science faculty, members of the Student Government Association and other campus organizations, and staff from a variety of student affairs and academic offices.
ETSU’s winning “game plan” contained over 30 activities within a span of two-and-a-half months to inform and educate students about becoming registered voters and then actually making a plan to vote either early or on Election Day.
According to Dr. Joe Sherlin, ETSU vice president of Student Affairs, “The success of the SoCon Votes initiative represents the best of our ETSU community. A committed team of students, staff and faculty shared a common goal of increasing student voter engagement on our campus, and the results speak for themselves. The team ‘knocked it out of the park.’”
The conventional wisdom has long been that millennials demonstrate a general apathy when it comes to voting. However, a recent landmark study — and the first major one released on 2016 youth voting trends — from Tufts University and the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE) titled “Democracy Counts: A Report on U.S. College and University Student Voting” tells a very different story. In fact, student turnout improved by 7 percent in 2016, compared to the presidential election in 2012. “The improvement by students at ETSU shows what’s possible when leaders on college campuses stand up to support student civic engagement,” said Joey Wozniak, who developed SoCon Votes as a senior at Mercer University with a grant from the Knight Foundation Fund at the Community Foundation of Central Georgia and technical expertise from the Academic Exchange and Council of Chief Student Affairs Officers within the Southern Conference.
SoCon Votes aims to support the 80,000 students in the Southern Conference to become active and engaged citizens. Each of the 10 schools in the Southern Conference is vying for the conference championship for Highest Voter Turnout or Most Improved Voter Turnout. Since the creation of SoCon Votes, the Big Ten Athletic Conference has followed suit and launched the Big Ten Voting Challenge