Thanks to the hard work of the Walker Fellows at Millersville University (MU), more MU students are voting in national elections than the national average.
For Dr. Adam Lawrence, faculty coordinator of the Robert and Sue Walker Center for Civic Responsibility and Leadership at Millersville University, it makes every day feel like a national voter registration day.
“People have divorced themselves from the political process,” he said. “There’s no alternative. You can’t expect government to work well and not be involved. It’s not a spectator sport, it’s a participant sport.”
Lawrence oversees the Walker Fellows, a student organization that aims to mold future civic and community leaders. The organization was established in 2009. The Walker Fellows assist with voter registration, host former members of congress on campus, host current legislators and provide information on political topics that interest students.
Their work is paying off. Despite the fact that college-age citizens have long been America’s least faithful group of voters, a report by the Washington Monthly in Sept. 2019 identified Millersville as one of the 80 best colleges for student voting.
“It’s a great message that we’re sending to students,” Lawrence said. “It tells them that we care. We want to empower you to control and influence your own community.”
Millersville was one of seven Pennsylvania institutions and one of three Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) schools listed in the report, along with California University (PA) and Kutztown University.
Institutions were graded on a five-point scale, according to the report. Those five points were:
– Submission of an all-in action plan in 2016.
– Submission of an all-in action plan in 2018.
– Registration for 2016 National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NLSVE) data.
– Making the 2016 NLSVE data, including voter turnout rates, publicly available.
– Registration for 2018 NLSVE data.
It’s important for higher education institutions to help with student voter registration, according to the Campus Vote Project. People ages 18 to 29 cite barriers such as missing a deadline or lacking information as reasons they did not register to vote, according to the website. Students also trust their college or university to provide nonpartisan opportunities to register to vote, learn about the issues and receive accurate information over other institutions, according to the organization’s website.
NLSVE data found that Millersville had a 41.7% voting rate in the 2018 mid-term elections, more than four percentage points higher than the national average among college campuses. It’s a significant jump for MU, which had just 16.5% voting rate in the 2014 mid-terms.
Nearly 35% of Millersville students ages 18 to 21 voted in the 2018 mid-term elections, compared to just 9.9% in 2014, according to the report.
Getting students registered to vote, and then have them follow through, is important, Lawrence said. The Walker Fellows provide information on how to register to vote, which can be confusing for some college students who come to Millersville from out of the state or even out of the country. The group also provided transportation to different voting sites in the most recent elections.
The Walker Fellows also want to create an environment where students can think for themselves, said Lori Leaman, executive assistant and events coordinator for the Walker Center.
“When students come to campus they might already be registered, and I enjoy hearing the rationale for their convictions,” Leaman said. “I’m glad that they’re engaging in our democracy, and I love hearing about what really matters to them, and what we can do to further educate and support them”
Students interested in more information can visit the second floor of the Huntingdon House or email Lori.Leaman@millersville.edu. Information on updating your registration and important deadlines for college students, including absentee voting, is available at www.VotesPa.com
The next general election in Pennsylvania is Nov. 5, 2019 and the polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The last day to register for that election was Oct. 7. The last day to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 29.