George Washington University participated in National Voter Registration Day with an event on University Yard designed to get students engaged and informed ahead of the 2023-2024 election cycle.
National Voter Registration Day is dedicated to ensuring Americans are aware of the steps they need to take to exercise their right to vote. At GW, a nonpartisan coalition of students, faculty and staff under the Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service, called GW Votes, hosts the annual event to help students prepare for one of the most important responsibilities as a U.S. citizen.
The scene was lively Tuesday morning at University Yard as students made their way through the booths set up to answer all of their questions. There were also tables set up offering treats like cotton candy and other giveaways.
Maya Kaplun, a first-year student studying political science, stopped by the event to learn more about GW Votes. She said this will be the first year she is eligible to vote, and she is happy to see GW offer resources to assist first-time voters.
“I think voting is the most important thing a person can do because it is part of your civic duty and change wouldn’t happen without it,” Kaplun said. “Most students just turned 18 and having never voted before, having someone to walk you through this important, momentous life occasion is important.”
GW also partnered with TurboVote, a free tool that students can use to request an absentee ballot, register to vote, get reminders about important deadlines and comprehensive guides on elections in their home district.
Amy Cohen, the executive director of the Nashman Center, said GW is an institution that prides itself on having students who are engaged in the democratic process.
“We strongly believe that part of any education is to ensure that our students develop the skills, knowledge and habits to become active citizens,” Cohen said. “One of the hallmarks of an active citizen is voting. And many of our students are going to be voting for the first time this year or next year so we want to make sure that we give them the tools to be able to do that.”
Cohen said college students are in a unique position when it comes to voting because many of them may have a home address that is in a different state from their residence on campus.
“We want to encourage our students to vote wherever works for them,” Cohen said. “And that might be at their home address and in that case, it can sometimes take longer to get your vote in when you're voting absentee or by mail. So, we want to make sure students are aware.”
Christopher Warshaw, a political science professor at GW, said it is important for students who plan to vote in their home state to start preparing early so as not to miss crucial deadlines.
“In many states, you have to register well in advance of the election,” Warshaw said. “If they're going to vote by mail or vote absentee, in most places, they're going to have to request that absentee ballot well ahead of the election to ensure that their vote is counted. And the rules do differ quite a lot by state. But I would say in most states, you must have your ballot there by Election Day. So you can’t wait till Oct. 30 to decide what you want to do.”
He said it’s extremely important for students to make their voices heard in the coming elections. He said one of the best things students at GW can do in addition to voting themselves is also encourage their friends to register to vote and show up on Election Day.
“I think that regardless of your political beliefs or attitudes, this election is going to make a big difference for policies like taxes, Social Security, student loan policy, reproductive rights, climate change and the environment,” Warshaw said.
Vidya Muthupillai, the chief ambassador of GW Votes, said she saw first-hand the challenges that come with being a first-time voter, living in a different state and trying to navigate absentee ballot rules.
“Accessing the ballot can be difficult, even for a campus as politically engaged as GW,” Muthupillai said. “I joined GW Votes to help students navigate these challenges, whether it's helping get registered to vote, knowing how to request absentee ballots or learning how to research candidates. Students deserve to have a voice through their vote.”
She said she’s passionate about encouraging other students to vote because it is a way for their voices to be heard.
“There is no better advocate for your life, your loved ones or the communities you care about than you,” Muthupillai said. “Whether it's your loved one facing difficulty accessing healthcare, the park behind your house that the city wants to pave over or your experience struggling to figure out how to afford higher education, the issues on the ballot in each election impact your day-to-day. Declining to participate is allowing other people who don't necessarily share your interests to decide your life for you because if you don't vote, you often won't have a seat at the table.”