Southern Conference Launches Innovative Athletic-Style Voter Engagement Competition


MACON – In an attempt to address one of American democracy's biggest problems – low and unequal participation that leads to low levels of engagement beyond college – the Southern Conference is launching “SoCon Votes,” the first voter engagement competition in an NCAA Division I athletic conference.

“SoCon Votes” aims to capitalize on existing rivalries among schools to transform student voting engagement into a contest to be tracked by a national voting organization.

Each of the conference's 10 participating institutions will form a team among students, faculty and staff to compete in four rounds. After each round, a panel of voter engagement advisers will rank the teams based on a rubric.

“The rubric will consist of certain criteria like get-out-the-vote efforts, ballot access, voter knowledge and more,” said Mercer University senior Joey Wozniak, who developed “SoCon Votes” with a grant from the Knight Foundation Fund at the Community Foundation of Central Georgia. “Theoretically, schools will come up with innovative ways to reach out to students in those specific areas.”

In the first round, teams will sign up for the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE), which offers colleges and universities the opportunity to learn student registration and voting rates. Teams will be judged based upon their institution's voter turnout for the 2012 election.

In the second round, 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 undergrad voter turnout and the most improved undergrad voter turnout.

“This can be an effective method of taking the competitive nature all students have for their institution and converting it into action that benefits the democratic process,” said John Iamarino, commissioner of the Southern Conference. “We're proud that the SoCon can play a role in encouraging student voter turnout.”

Wozniak outlined his plan for “SoCon Votes” to student affairs professionals representing the Southern Conference's institutions in Asheville, North Carolina, on March 4 and received overwhelming support. 

“The various schools from around the conference were very positive about the concept, and instantly committed to making this part of our upcoming initiatives,” said Dr. Douglas Pearson, vice president for student affairs at Mercer. “It is great to see student civic engagement given such a prominent place at our institutions and in our conference.”

Wozniak publicly presented “SoCon Votes” for the first time as a panelist at the Campus Compact 30th Anniversary Conference on March 22 in Boston, Massachusetts, the premier gathering for civic engagement professionals in the nation.

Kyle is senior director of media relations at Mercer. In addition to being the primary media contact for most academic and administrative units of the university, he serves as editor of the Mercerian alumni magazine and News@Mercer e-newsletters, and he coordinates hometown and university news releases.