MACON – Mercer University was recently named the winner of the opening round of the “SoCon Votes” competition, edging out UNCG and Samford based on student voter turnout during the 2012 election via the National Study on Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE).
“SoCon Votes” was launched earlier this year by the Southern Conference (SoCon) in an attempt to address one of democracy's biggest problems – low and unequal participation that leads to low levels of engagement beyond college. It is the first athletic-style voter engagement competition in an NCAA Division I athletic conference.
A new student organization called Mobilize Mercer was founded last spring to focus on voter registration, education and engagement. The organization developed a plan to win “SoCon Votes” that includes organizing watch parties for televised debates, promoting election-related events sponsored by other student groups and academic departments, working with the Quadworks student activities board to implement a “Vote!” theme at the annual fall Battle of the Bands, inviting outside organizations to help with voter registration drives on campus, and reaching out to students one-on-one to give them the information and resources they need to vote on Nov. 8.
“Mobilize Mercer started small with a gummy bear poll during primary season where students put a gummy bear in their candidate's jar to signify their support,” said president Emily Thompson. “This semester, we have hosted debate watch parties, voter registration drives and so much more. We are planning for victory this November when the 'SoCon Votes' competition ends, but regardless of the outcome, we have been able to accomplish our overarching goal. Mercer students are now more aware and engaged in the political process. It's been an incredible thing to see.”
For the second round of the competition, teams will create a playbook designed to increase voter engagement for the 2016 election and be judged based on the composition of their plans, while in the third round, teams will put their playbooks into action and be judged based on how successful they were in implementing their plans.
The championship round will be judged based upon NSLVE reports for the 2016 election, with awards going to the teams with the highest undergraduate voter turnout and the most improved undergrad voter turnout.
Recent Mercer graduate Joey Wozniak developed “SoCon Votes” as a senior with a grant from the Knight Foundation Fund at the Community Foundation of Central Georgia. He publicly presented the plan for the competition at the Campus Compact 30th Anniversary Conference in March, the premier gathering of civic engagement professionals in the nation.
“The 'SoCon Votes' competition is an example of the kind of opportunities Mercer offers our students,” said Hannah Vann, coordinator for community engagement. “Our Research that Reaches Out office, under the leadership of Dr. Bridget Trogden, sponsors an annual Visionary Student Panel for students to pitch their ideas for solving a local, regional or global problem. Joey Wozniak pitched this competition as a solution for the overwhelming lack of participation of college-age voters in elections. He was awarded some funding to run with it, and now Joey's idea has turned into a conference-wide initiative that is inspiring not just Mercerians, but students throughout all the SoCon schools. Joey's a great model for our Mobilize Mercer students as they identify ways to tackle the challenges that come with motivating college students to vote.”
For more information on the competition, visit www.soconvotes.com.