Mercer Votes helps students prepare to vote in upcoming presidential election

775
Five members of Mercer's men's lacrosse stand outside wearing matching white shirts that say "Vote" on the front. The "O" in vote is the Mercer bear head. The individual in the middle is holding a clipboard. On top of the clipboard is a cup with pens in it.
Members of Mercer's men's lacrosse team collect pledges to vote at Bearstock on April 13. Photo courtesy Lauren Shinholster

Mercer University students voted at a record rate in the last presidential election, and a campus coalition is working to achieve high voter turnout again this year. 

In the lead-up to the November presidential election, Mercer Votes has launched a website, vote.mercer.edu, to provide voter registration information and election resources to students and the campus community. The group also plans to enlist the help of student ambassadors and host campus events to get students interested in the election. 

“We’re looking at keeping them informed and keeping them engaged,” said Lauren Shinholster, associate director of engaged learning at Mercer. “We’re looking at some innovative ways to get them excited about the election and informed about the issues that they’re going to vote on.” 

In addition, Mercer Votes recently was awarded an Ask Every Student implementation grant of $5,000 to support its voter registration efforts.

Mercer Votes is a nonpartisan coalition that advances the University’s voter registration, education and turnout efforts. It started as Mobilize Mercer, a student organization, in 2016 and transitioned to Mercer Votes in 2021 to bring together campus and community partners. 

The coalition model also allows Mercer Votes to apply for grant money. Through the Campus Vote Project Democracy Fellows program, students are hired to advance nonpartisan voter engagement by registering, educating and mobilizing voters. Mercer Votes is recruiting fellows for the 2024-25 academic year.  

As a Campus Vote Project Democracy Fellow, Mercer alumna Atia Bailey planned campus events to engage and inform students about voting. Bailey graduated in December with a Bachelor of Arts in law and public policy and sociology. She will be attending law school at Howard University in the fall.

Portrait of Atia Bailey. She has long, curly black hair and is smiling broadly. She wears a dark blazer and a white shirt with a detailed, metallic collar.
Atia Bailey

“Most of the events that I threw were kind of informational and also fun. We tried to do a little bit of both,” she said. “We did voting bingo. We also did a block party and a gerrymandering balloon pop. We did tie-dye that we called blur the lines of red, white and blue. … Most of what I did was planning events that were fun but also sneaking information in there.” 

Bailey, of Grayson, spearheaded the idea to transition Mobilize Mercer from a student organization to a wider coalition. She was recently named to the 2024 ALL IN Student Voting Honor Roll for her voter engagement efforts at Mercer. 

She got into nonpartisan work after an internship with Jon Ossoff’s campaign for U.S. senator during her freshman year.  

“That was really important, especially during the runoff to remind people that they had to vote again,” Bailey said. “But I kind of felt bad telling people, like my friends and classmates, that they should vote for a specific candidate because I don’t know what their values are. I don’t know if they believe the same things that I do, and I kind of felt like I might turn people off of voting by supporting a specific candidate. And that’s why I wanted to get into nonpartisan work.” 

Mercer is a national leader for student voter engagement efforts. In 2016, then-senior Joey Wozniak, an economics and political science double-major, created the SoCon Votes competition for democratic engagement at Southern Conference schools. Other conferences have since created their own challenges, Shinholster said. 

In addition, Mercer is one of 258 colleges and universities nationwide to be named a Voter Friendly Campus for 2023-24

During the 2020 presidential election, Mercer had a voting rate of 72.5%, which was higher than the national average of 66%, according to the 2020 National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement Campus Report. It was the University’s highest voting rate since it started keeping track in 2016. 

“At Mercer, we talk about every student majoring in changing the world. For us, we look at voting as an extension of that,” Shinholster said. “So, when we talk about students being involved in this process, we want them to understand that the vote they are casting this year will have consequences potentially for the rest of their lifetime and for future generations. 

“For us, it’s really important that students connect, not only to the candidates that they’re voting for, but more importantly, to the social issues that those candidates stand for.” 

 

Do you have a story idea or viewpoint you'd like to share with The Den?
Get in touch with us by emailing den@mercer.edu or submitting this online form.
Jennifer Falk
Jennifer Falk is director of digital communications at Mercer. She edits and writes feature stories for The Den and examines web data and analytics to drive content decisions. She also creates and supervises the creation of content for primary University web pages and e-newsletters.