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Education

Indiana universities reported large jumps in student voting during 2020 election

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Several Indiana universities reported large jumps in student voter turnout in 2020 (WBAA News/Ben Thorp)

Several Indiana universities saw large jumps in student voter participation during the 2020 election, according to reporting from a nonpartisan voter initiative.

The All In Campus Democracy Challenge, established in 2016, aims to increase student participation in elections. The group reports that in 2020 Notre Dame, Indiana University, and Purdue University saw roughly 20 point jumps in student voter participation.

Nationally, the average increase in student voting was just 13%.

That jump comes in part because Indiana universities had turnout lower than the national average in 2016.

Between 2016 and 2020, the national average in student voter turnout went from 53% to 66%. At IU, turnout rose from 45% to 67%. Purdue voting rates jumped from 47% to 67%, and at Notre Dame voting moved from 53% to 71%.

Mark Fraley is the associate director of the Political and Civic Engagement program at Indiana University. He said the voting challenge transcended university rivalries.

“It was not about ‘let’s get out there and beat Purdue.’ I don’t think that was on students' minds, I really don’t,” he said. “I think what was on students’ minds was ‘I want to build a world where I belong.’”

Fraley said university support helped boost election participation, but he also believes overall attitudes around voting are changing.

“People see much more of a moral purpose in political engagement,” he said. “That’s reflected in the turnout we saw last year.”

Melissa Gruver is the associate director of Civic Engagement and Leadership Development at Purdue.

“Helping students navigate that process and generating energy and excitement towards voter engagement is really key towards success in getting college student voter turnout,” she said.

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An analysis of Purdue's student voter turnout between 2016 and 2020. Courtesy of Institute for Democracy & Higher Education

Gruver said the university doesn’t advocate for individual policies to make voting easier for students -- such as no-excuse absentee voting -- but does help students to navigate existing voter laws. 

“A really great example of that is when our students found out our county was no longer going to accept Purdue IDs at polling locations because the IDs did not have expiration dates,” she said. “Our university put the expiration date on those PUIDs.”

Jennifer Domagal-Goldman is the executive director for the All In Campus Democracy Challenge. She said in the long term, she’d like to see all eligible students get registered to vote on college campuses.

“Part of that is done by creating a culture around this,” she said. “Systemic ways of doing it we are seeing are what are having the biggest impact.”

Domagal-Goldman said that can include making voter registration a part of student orientation, putting reminders online when students go to sign up for classes, or having university presidents include reminders in campus welcome speeches. But, Domagal-Goldman said, she’s happy with the progress campuses are making.

“I think that in 2020, for basically the first time we know of, that college student voters voted on par with the national voter populus is pretty amazing,” she said. “I would like to see it be higher, I think more Americans need to care more deeply, but I think that’s pretty remarkable we were able to do that.”