'Smith Votes' Initiative Aims to Boost Student Voter Registration

In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, during her first semester at Smith, Amelia Windorski ’20 says many of her friends wanted to vote, but didn’t know how to register or cast absentee ballots.

“There is a big gap in how we communicate with Smithies about voting,” she says.

Closing that gap has been on Windorski’s mind as the November mid-term elections approach. “These elections are probably the most important in our lifetimes—regardless of political party,” she says.

This semester, Windorski is helping to launch Smith Votes, a new initiative aimed at boosting civic engagement on campus. As part of the effort, Smith has joined the national ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge to increase the number of students who are registered to vote, are informed about candidates and issues, and are actively voting in local, state and national elections.

Smith students already have a strong track record on that score. In 2016, the voting rate at Smith was 65.9 percent—significantly higher than the 50.4 percent for all colleges and universities participating in the National Study of Learning and Voting Engagement.

“Our students definitely see the importance of civic engagement,” says Greg White, Mary Huggins Gamble Professor of Government and a member of the planning committee for Smith Votes. “We’re hoping this new project will lead to even more awareness and participation.”

To make voting easier, Smith Votes is hosting Turbovote, an online platform that allows students to sign up to receive election reminders, register to vote, or apply for an absentee ballot so they can weigh in on issues and candidates in their home communities.

Participants in the new initiative will staff information tables in the Campus Center on Tuesday, Sept. 25—National Voter Registration Day—and will work with other student groups to plan additional voter registration and education activities this fall.

Jenna Pepe ’19, president of the Smith Bipartisan Coalition and vice president of the Student Government Association, says that although the college is already a place for “vibrant” political discussions, “getting students to translate their ideas into action is crucial in effecting change.”

Smith Votes is not just about the current election cycle, notes SGA President Bri Barrett ’19, who is also helping to launch the initiative.

“It will continue past that,” says Barrett. “Smith students are concerned about a wide variety of issues. This program is a good way to get students thinking about how we are making a difference out in the world.”

Smith Votes is a partnership between SGA, the President’s Office, the Office of Student Engagement, Wurtele Center for Leadership and Jandon Center for Community Engagement.