The University of Maryland hosted most of the annual National Student Vote Summit last week to discuss strategies to strengthen student voter turnout for the 2024 elections.
The Students Learn Students Vote Coalition — a nonpartisan network dedicated to increasing college student voter participation — hosted the summit, which lasted from Nov. 15 to 17, and was held at Stamp Student Union on Nov. 16 and 17.
The event garnered more than 200 attendees, including about 100 students from across the country. Student attendees hoped the event would help reduce voting barriers for students on college campuses across the country.
The annual summit was first held in 2016, but this was the first year it was held in person since 2019.
Clarissa Unger, the co-founder and executive director of Students Learn Students Vote, said this university was selected the “perfect host campus” for the summit because of the advocacy by the TerpsVote Coalition, a group dedicated to promoting civic engagement on campus, as well as the Maryland Democracy Initiative.
“We really wanted to showcase to folks from across the country a campus that is really doing this work in a very intentional way,” Unger said.
Several keynote speakers also gave addresses during the three-day summit, including university president Darryll Pines as well as Eric Luedtke, who is Maryland Governor Wes Moore’s chief legislative officer and Wisdom Cole, the national director of the NAACP’s Youth and College Division.
During the summit, students were placed in workshop groups to collaborate with their peers and keynote speakers about how to expand student turnout on their respective campuses.
Rebecca Navarro, the director of civic engagement for this university’s Student Government Association, presented about the importance of local civic engagement, specifically among students.
“So many students, I think, don’t care for politics, but they care for policy,” said Navarro, a senior mathematics and public policy major at this university. “Students really, really need to see what tangible the change is and see what’s actually happening when decisions are made and I think that really happens at the local level.”
Navarro, who is also the student co-chair of TerpsVote — an event co-sponsor — said that one important step in increasing student engagement is connecting students with their local governments’ actions. Some local issues that impact students at this university daily include Purple Line construction, student rent subsidies and zoning, which are discussed at the county and city level, she added.
Navarro said she is also working to address low student voter turnout at this university.
More than 71 percent of eligible students at this university voted in the 2020 presidential election — eight percent higher than the national average, according to Maryland Today.
Navarro emphasized that out-of-state students often struggle with a lack of resources to help them and confusing absentee voting procedures. TerpsVote is helping students overcome these challenges, she said.
But Navarro acknowledged that students at other universities that she met at the summit are going through much more challenging hurdles.
“A lot of these students are facing some really, really big barriers with their local state and even federal elected officials or their voting laws,” Navarro said. “We live in a place where that’s not a concern … and a lot of these other students can’t say the same.”
James Oberwortmann, a sophomore political science, communications and marketing major at Trinity University in San Antonio, said students at his university have several barriers to voting.
Texas has some of the “most restrictive” voter identification laws in the country, Oberwortmann added.
“One big hurdle is students not knowing if they can vote,” Oberwortmann said.
Oberwortmann said other attendees advised him in a breakout session at the summit to distribute cards explaining voter identification requirements to students around campus.
Trinity University does not have a polling place on campus, Oberwortmann noted. This can be a “big hindrance” for students trying to vote, he added.
Andres Cubillos, a senior political science and international affairs student at Florida State University, said his university recently moved its on-campus polling location to the student union.
Cubillos said he believes education and accessibility are the two pillars that student voter programs need to focus on. Students need to be educated about voting directly from their university and polling places need to be accessible for all students, he noted.
“There are hundreds of campuses across the country where the most accessible voting location for students is off-campus or in an unknown location,” Cubillos said. “That’s not right if we want our young people to actually get registered and turn out to vote.”
Moving forward, several students at the summit highlighted the importance of promoting student engagement among their peers.
“We’re the future of this country and the policies that we vote on today will have a massive effect on our future,” Oberwortmann said.