By Kenna Beamer
You may or may not have heard of the Ready, Run, Race: Go Vote challenge happening on campus right now until Friday, April 16th. According to the registration and details page, “This is a non-partisan, non-ideological voter engagement competition that is open to all students — including international and graduate students — from all colleges and fields of study!” But why do we need this challenge? To answer that question I interviewed Dr. Karen Kedrowski, the director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics and the forewoman of this challenge.
For the GO VOTE challenge, 15 students divided into seven teams are to attend a number of seminars and workshops hosted by several political science professors here at Iowa State. These seminars will provide insight into Iowa State’s voting history, building their campaign, and testing their strategies. They will then use the information given in those seminars and workshops to come up with a medium and message to reach the population of students who show lower voting turnout. On April 16th, the winning team chosen by the judges to have the best strategy will receive $1500 and their strategy may be implemented in future Iowa State election preparation campaigns.
Dr. Kedrowski is in charge of coordinating voting efforts at Iowa State. This means she is the one who helps get the word out about voting on campus. This is done through ads in the Iowa State Daily and on the CyRide busses, direct interactions with students, voter registration campaigns, and countless other duties to help inform students about voting on campus. Basically, she has a lot of insight into the voting habits of Iowa State students, the data of which shows that student (youth) turnout is significantly lower than older and non-student voters nationwide.
Dr. Kedrowski believes student (youth) turnout is so low because students are often inexperienced when it comes to voting. Many students who come to Iowa State have likely never voted before and aren’t informed on the process. This is what makes Dr. Kedrowski’s work so important, informing students on how to fulfill their civic duty of voting is step one to seeing an increased turnout. She stated, “voting is a habit,” which is why older people tend to show up to vote because the habit is already set in for them. She also mentioned that students who had mock elections in high school are more likely to vote in real elections than their peers who didn’t have them because they already have an idea of how elections work. Another thing she noted is that even for experienced voters who are also non-residential students, there can be some hesitancy to vote in Iowa because of how each state conducts elections differently.
Dr. Kedrowski then shared some data with me about the voting turnout at Iowa State based on major, and it turns out that STEM majors are significantly less likely to vote. She cited computer science students turn out at about 30%, which is significantly lower than history students’ 80%. She and I then discussed how her efforts to get students to vote really only reach those already interested in voting, typically LAS students, and she needed a new way to reach those who don’t have as much interest, typically STEM students. So the focus of this challenge is really to combine efforts of the Liberal Arts and Sciences College (LAS) with the Student Innovations Center —a resource used mostly by STEM majors— to encourage that demographic of students to vote.
I will be conducting a follow-up interview with Dr. Kedrowski and potentially members of the winning team to discuss the winning strategy and how/why it was successful, stay tuned!