Big Ten campuses launch Big Ten Voting Challenge initiative

The Big Ten Conference is not only for sports. 

This year, the Big Ten universities are joining forces to encourage students to register to vote through an initiative called the Big Ten Voting Challenge. 

Lisa-Marie Napoli, associate director for the Political and Civic Engagement Program, said after a nationwide student voter engagement initiative last year, Big Ten universities talked about ways to keep the momentum going. The Big Ten Voting Challenge was the answer. 

“We’re focusing a lot on voter registration efforts because we know sometimes that’s an obstacle for students,” Napoli said. “We want to make sure students understand the voting process and get them registered without problems.”

She said the program will work to enhance awareness of engagement on campus and encourage healthy competition and encouragement between Big Ten universities. 

In 2014, only 21 percent of those under 30 voted in the November midterm elections, the lowest young turnout ever recorded, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. 

The challenge began Sept. 17, Constitution Day. It is a nonpartisan initiative to encourage students to exercise their right to vote, according to a press release.

IU-Bloomington Provost and Executive Vice President Lauren Robel said she hoped the challenge would begin a lifetime habit of civic engagement among students. 

“It’s important for all of our students to learn how to make their voices heard as active members of a community — at home, while they’re here in Bloomington and wherever they go after graduation,” Robel said in the release. 

The millennials born in the years leading up to and after 2000 are the largest generation in the United States at 83 million people, according to the release. 

The Big Ten Voting Challenge is designed to increase voter registration by the 2018 midterm elections. Napoli said this will happen in part by working with other college political organizations, including reaching out to the College Republicans and College Democrats. 

Program leaders will also do tabling on Tuesdays to get students registered as easily as possible, Napoli said. 

“We do want this initiative, from the IUB perspective, to be as much student led as possible,” Napoli said. 

One student already in the game is Josephine Mccormick. 

Mccormick, a freshman at IU, met Napoli over the summer during a freshman seminar. She said Napoli reached out to her about the initiative after she helped with a voter-registration drive. 

She said one of the greatest challenges at IU right now, as someone with fresh eyes on the scene, is political apathy. 

“Students are not getting involved in politics and not getting involved in the electoral process, and that is one of the darkest difficulties I’ve noticed and that I want to combat,” Mccormick said. “It’s important that students are aware of their duties as engaged citizens to vote and to be enfranchised.”

The residents of the 14 Big Ten universities signed a letter endorsing the challenge, and each pledged $10,000 to be used on their respective campuses to promote student engagement. 

After the 2018 election, trophies will go to two universities, one to the highest eligible voter turnout and one with the most improved turnout. 

“It’s not necessarily competing, but encouraging voter registration efforts,” Napoli said.

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