The Big Ten loves competition. The member universities will battle it out over any score, trying to top each other in football, basketball, hockey, and ... voting?
Yes, the conference is now seeing the schools putting civic duty on the line with the Big Ten Voting Challenge, trying to increase registration and voter turnout.
It’s an area where there is a first-place prize and a kind of participation award. Two trophies will be given after the 2018 general election — one for the university with the highest voter turnout and one for the most improved in comparison to 2014.
That begs the question: Just how well do Penn Staters do with showing up to the polls?
Let’s just say that there is a lot of room for improvement.
Historically, Penn State students do well with registering. Thousands of students are registered for each of the four State College borough precincts that vote in the HUB-Robeson Center twice a year. How many actually take a minute to pick up a ballot and an “I voted!” sticker? Not so many.
Since 2012, an average of 2.42 percent of the registered voters for those four precincts have voted in the primary. The average goes up to 16.99 percent for the general election. In comparison, the rest of the county’s average for that period is 22 percent for the primaries and 41.35 percent for the generals.
Think that’s bad? Let’s take out the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections. That drops the average to .128 percent for primaries and 2.33 percent for general elections. In two precincts, there were zero voters in the 2013 and 2015 primaries, while another had just one voter show up those days.
And that 2014 benchmark year for the challenge? A congressional midterm year, like 2018, it prompted just 5.17 percent of registered voters to show up at the HUB.
Think that’s applicable for all college kids? Maybe not. Penn State put out a press release on the challenge, which cited the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, claiming 21 percent of those younger than age 30 turned out to vote in 2014, compared with 36 percent overall, with university turnout at 19 percent.
Penn State groups are trying to counter that.
“College Democrats has been aware of the problem of low voter turnout for several years now, and many groups on and off campus are working to combat it; most students may not live here year-round, but it's important that their voices are heard,” said the group’s secretary, O’Neill Kennedy.
Both the Democratic group and the College Republicans push information on how to vote, how to get information and how to get involved.
“Another method of trying to increase voter turnout is getting involved in political campaigns. We have members involved in local, state and national campaigns; for example, two members of our executive board last year were on the executive board for Students for Hillary, and we have several members who are currently volunteering for mayoral races. They register voters, hand out literature, phone bank and knock on doors,” Kennedy said. “College Democrats also sometimes hosts phonebanking sessions for candidates in general elections.”
College Republicans were also contacted for this story.
Penn State has a dedicated website to help students register to vote at https://psu.turbovote.org/.