Montclair State’s efforts to get students registered to vote this year got a boost on the first day of classes when former Vice President Joe Biden stopped by campus with Governor Phil Murphy to stump for congressional candidate Mikie Sherrill, shaking hands and posing for selfies. It was an Instagramable moment that inspired political engagement among campus voters.
That high-profile event helped efforts by Britah Odondi, a graduate student working on a combined BA in Jurisprudence/MA in Law and Governance, who also works for the University’s Office of Civic and Voter Engagement. After the September rally, Odondi says she saw an increase in both the number of students who registered and pledged to vote.
Among the motivated was Naajidah Khan, a junior political science major who spoke about her personal journey to civic engagement at the rally. “When you have an elected official standing in front of you, shaking your hand and telling you, ‘You need to vote,’ it’s inspiring and brings everything into context about why things matter and why you need to be engaged,” says Khan, who also volunteered for Sherrill in New Jersey’s 11th congressional district, which includes Montclair.
“I decided to educate myself on how we got here and how I could be proactive and make a difference,” Khan told the crowd. “I began to understand the importance of off-year elections, civic engagement, that every vote really does count, and how our current political climate has been allowed to take shape in large part because of our own complacency.”
The Office of Civic and Voter Engagement promoted registration, rewarding students who join the voter rolls with T-shirts that feature the slogan, “Grumble. Complain. Blame. Tweet. Protest. Vote.” Montclair State also competed in the Ballot Bowl, a non-partisan, statewide collegiate voter registration competition connected to the September 25 national registration drive. For the first time, the University was able to target registration strategies using data that shows which kinds of students vote and which do not, according to Mariel Pagán, director of the Center for Student Involvement. In the 2016 Presidential election, for instance, nearly 56 percent of all Montclair State undergraduate students voted, a number provided by the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement.
The University’s efforts recently earned it a spot on the listing of America’s Best Colleges for Student Voting Information published by Washington Monthly.
“The University feels strongly that part of our core responsibility to the State of New Jersey and to society as a whole is to help students develop and execute their rights and responsibilities as citizens,” says Karen L. Pennington, vice president for Student Development and Campus Life. “Voting is the most fundamental of those rights, and the responsibility of all who are eligible to be a part of creating and sustaining the type of world in which they want to live.”