Making the trek to the outer limits of campus to vote may have been difficult for some IU students in the past elections.
For the 2018 midterm elections, many IU students and other Bloomington residents will cast their votes at a new polling station in the Indiana Memorial Union.
The Monroe County Election Board voted Feb. 1 to approve a station in the IMU after about a year of urging from IU’s Political and Civic Engagement program, PACE.
Bloomington residents whose precincts previously voted at Union Street Center or Memorial Stadium will vote in the University Club at the IMU in the fall.
Monroe County Election Board chair William Ellis said postcards will be sent out soon to inform citizens of the change.
The consolidation of the two polling stations will save the county around $3000, Ellis said.
Sandra Shapshay, the director of PACE, said the effort began with IU’s involvement in the 2016 All In Democracy Challenge, a non-partisan challenge encouraging campuses to commit to increasing student voter rates.
When campuses commit to the challenge, they have to provide their enrollment rosters to the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement, Shapshay said. NSLVE uses this information to determine what percentage of eligible students are voting.
The NSLVE study found that 51.8 percent of undergraduate IUPUI students voted in the 2016 election. PACE looked at the IUB data, which is not publicly available, and decided to try and improve the campus’s rate of participation.
Senior Maggie Eickhoff worked with Shapshay and Bernard Fraga, an assistant professor in IU’s political science department, to discuss tactics to increase student voting.
According to her research, one of the best ways to improve voting is to have a polling place central on campus, something Purdue University does.
Purdue’s voting rates were higher than IU’s in 2016.
Voter turnout for midterm elections is consistently lower than turnout during presidential years. However, Shapshay, Ellis and Fraga all said their expectation is for turnout to increase based on the new polling place.
Fraga said the central campus location is especially important, because Indiana’s polling places are open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., times when many students are usually on campus.
Eickhoff’s proposal to have a central campus polling location was endorsed by the College Republicans, College Democrats, Provost’s Office, IUSA and PACE before being submitted to the election board.
At first, the board had concerns about the handicap accessibility of the IMU after there were similar issues at Union Street Center during the 2016 election, Ellis said.
Ellis said the commitment from the PACE program and IMU management to emphasize accessibility assuaged those fears.
The election board chose the University Club at the IMU because of its size, how close it is to handicapped-accessible parking spaces and its easy access to a ramp entrance.
Shapshay said she has never had such a positive experience with local government before working on this project with the election board.
“It felt like a very good experience with government, a government that was very public-facing and very transparent,” she said.
Ellis said the election board tries to respect public comment and treat it as a conversation.
“I believe, as chairman of the board, it shouldn’t be public comment,” he said. “It should be public discussion.”