Student Council’s Legislative Affairs committee started a new initiative this semester called UVAVotes to increase political engagement on Grounds and register students to vote.
Committee Co-Chair Katie Brandon, a third-year College student and first-year Batten MPP student, is overseeing the effort as the head of the political engagement subcommittee.
UVAVotes has been in the planning stages since last semester, Brandon said, but has increased its efforts this month by registering approximately 100 students to vote at the Student Activities Fair last week. The group also has a social media presence, including a Facebook page with 149 likes and a hashtag on Twitter.
Brandon said the organization seeks to coordinate and increase voter registration efforts among various groups on Grounds, including the University Democrats, College Republicans, Black Student Alliance, Queer Student Union, Class Councils and others.
“It’s the University administration’s responsibility to help develop its student leaders, and U.Va. is an institution that prides itself particularly on producing student leaders for the self-governing democracy that Jefferson started,” Brandon said. “That being said, U.Va. does not have a systematic way of registering students to vote, providing political education, and that’s where I saw the opportunity to develop this joint initiative between the student body through student council and the administration.”
UVAVotes seeks not only to create a more civically engaged student body, but also to rectify a legal issue that she said the University currently faces, Brandon said.
She also said the University was in violation of the Higher Education Act of 1965 prior to sending an email to the student body Wednesday.
The law requires public universities in states that do not allow for same-day voter registration to “make a good faith effort to distribute a mail voter registration form, requested and received from the State, to each student enrolled in a degree or certificate program and physically in attendance at the institution, and to make such forms widely available to students at the institution.”
“This UVAVotes initiative would very much take care of righting that issue within U.Va. but also kind of [be] stepping into this role that U.Va. as a whole should have been fulfilling earlier,” Brandon said.
Courtney Zerrenner, a fourth-year College Student and Student Council director of University relations, clarified that Student Council is not an official extension of the University’s administration.
Despite the alleged oversight, University Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer Pat Lampkin sent an email to the student body Wednesday morning providing a link to voter registration forms.
The email cited the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, which reauthorized the Higher Education Act of 1965.
“The University encourages civic participation on the part of all citizens,” Lampkin said in the email.
Although the administration is not officially partnered with UVAVotes, Brandon said she is in the process of speaking with them, and has met with representatives from the Office of Student Affairs and the General Counsel’s office. Both Brandon and Zerrenner expressed the administration’s willingness and receptiveness to help with the project.
“UVAVotes is a program that the administration supports and they have been extremely helpful in organizing. The administration recognizes the importance of getting students to vote, which is why [University] President [Teresa] Sullivan spoke at great length about how to vote during her Convocation speech to the first-years,” Zerrenner said in an email statement.
When asked about the University’s compliance with the law and the alleged oversight, University Spokesman Anthony de Bruyn mentioned Lampkin’s email to the student body.
“The University provided students with voter registration information yesterday in accordance with the Higher Education Act,” de Bruyn said in an email Thursday to The Cavalier Daily. “The University has a very long tradition of encouraging students, faculty and staff to be active civic participants.”
De Bruyn did not respond to questions regarding whether the University was in compliance with the law prior to sending this email, or whether the University has taken similar steps every year to comply with the act.
After the email Lampkin sent to the student body, Brandon said she believed the requirements of the act had been fulfilled.
Brandon said the link is the only way to register to vote electronically in Virginia and saves paper.
Currently, only members of the Political Engagement subcommittee work on UVAVotes, but the group eventually plans to expand to a wide network of student volunteers and faculty advisors.
To that end, UVAVotes will hold a training session focused on how to properly register others on Sept. 12. Another next step for the group is designing a website which compiles all the relevant information about registering to vote in Virginia, which is scheduled to launch in early September.
“Once students have the information in front of them on this is how you register to vote, this is what you need to vote, I think that really aids the [information] gap,” Brandon said.
The deadline to register to vote in Virginia is Oct. 17. After this date, Brandon said she hopes to expand the reach of the project by partnering with professors to create an educative series on key issues in the election to present students with a balanced viewpoint.
Brandon also emphasized the nonpartisan nature of UVAVotes.
“The more people that participate the better, it’s very much a nonpartisan initiative,” Brandon said. “If you’re voting for a Democrat, great. If you’re voting for a Republican, great. If you’re voting independent, great. If you’re voting for a third party, great. Just vote.”