People chat during the NJ Voter summit

Election Day 2022: How Princeton students are leading registration and voting efforts

Noah Bardash (center), a graduate student in Princeton's School of Public and International Affairs, speaks with attendees at the New Jersey Voting Summit hosted on campus Oct. 1. 

“To be a Princetonian is to vote” is the message that student leaders are sending their peers ahead of Election Day on Nov. 8.

A student-led, nonpartisan effort has been underway since the summer to register eligible Princeton students to vote and to encourage them to cast a ballot during the 2022 midterm elections. The Princeton TurboVote website has information on how and where to vote, while other resources are available on the Pace Center for Civic Engagement’s voting and active citizenship page.    

“Our goal is to highlight the critical importance of electoral participation and civic engagement as essential aspects of a vibrant democracy,” said Class of 2023 member Ana Blanco, a fellow with Princeton’s Vote 100 initiative.

2 students in front of Nassau Hall with a big button that says "I voted"

Princeton students pose in front of an "I Voted" sign that was set up on Cannon Green during the November 2021 election. 

Since launching in 2015, Vote 100 has significantly increased registration and voting rates among Princeton undergraduates and graduate students. In 2020, nearly 88% of voting-eligible Princeton students registered and 75% voted on Election Day, over seven times the turnout in 2014.

Vote 100 is led by undergraduate and graduate students in collaboration with the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students (ODUS). Vote 100, ODUS and the Whig-Cliosophic Society will host an election watch party for the University community starting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 8, in the Whig Hall Senate Chamber.

Anjali Brunnermeier, a Class of 2025 member and Vote 100 fellow, said she wants students to know that local and state races are as important as presidential elections.

“It is crucial that every eligible person votes in local elections, especially in ‘off’ year elections,” Brunnermeier said. “Local elections are won and lost with very small margins, even down to tens or hundreds of votes.”

She added: “Local and state political decisions often have greater impact on your everyday lives. Local offices control municipal environmental, infrastructural, educational and transportation services. They also regulate public health decisions, which are especially crucial in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Students at a table during the NJ Voting Summit

Students from Princeton, The College of New Jersey and Raritan Valley Community College brainstorm ways to engage college students in civic service during a daylong summit on Princeton's campus. 

Over the summer, Vote 100 ambassadors contacted all first-year students to introduce them to TurboVote, an online tool that facilitates voter registration in all 50 states and provides election reminders. This year, nearly 850 people in Princeton have registered through TurboVote.

Vote 100 also introduced new programs and partnerships for 2022, including hosting the New Jersey Voting Summit for college students across the state. The daylong event on Oct. 1 was co-sponsored by the ALL-IN Campus Democracy Challenge, The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), Rutgers-New Brunswick and Raritan Valley Community College.

“Civic engagement is truly how you make your community better,” said TCNJ sophomore Jared Williams, who serves as the student vice president for governmental affairs. 

TCNJ President Kathryn Foster, who earned her Ph.D. in public and international affairs at Princeton, gave the keynote address. She traced the history of voting rights in the United States, including the exclusion of different groups from voting. She said it is important for college students to vote and noted that New Jersey had the highest youth vote in the country in 2020.

“What is your work?” Foster asked the students rhetorically. “To act, educate, engage and advocate.”

Student athletes are also leveraging their social media networks to encourage fellow Tigers to vote, running an Instagram contest to see which varsity team has the highest turnout and sharing get-out-the-vote Reels from the men’s football team.

“I think student athletes can be especially influential voting ambassadors because sports already bring lots of people from different backgrounds together for a common cause, so why not voting?” said Ella Gantman, a senior on the women’s soccer team. “Many of our sports teams at Princeton have tens of thousands of followers on social media. As such, by setting the example of what it looks like to be civically engaged on these large platforms, we are able to reach a lot of people at once.”

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in fall 2020, Gantman co-founded the Poll Hero project to encourage college students to volunteer as poll workers. The project was inspired by former Campus Dining employee Laura Wooten, who was the longest-serving poll worker in the United States and was recently honored by Princeton with the naming of Laura Wooten Hall in recognition of her civic service.

Gantman’s interests in voting access extends to her academic work. Her senior thesis looks at the lack of voting infrastructure for people in prison who are eligible to vote.

“This experience has put me in contact with the stories of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people who explain how much they have fought for the right to vote. And their stories remind me of all the people — Black and brown people, women, and others — that have all come before me and sacrificed themselves in the fight for suffrage. As such, seeing how hard it is for some people to vote and how hard so many people have had to fight to vote, I see that it is only right that those of us that can relatively easily vote, do so.”