September 17, 2021 | OPINION | By Tom Byron | Photo by Tamar Crump
Colorado College students have a reputation for not voting. Despite high levels of political participation on campus, with a large number of clubs devoted to political causes and a near-constant discussion of political issues, there’s still a persistent perception both on campus and off that CC students just don’t vote.
On campus, students tend to think that we’re just too busy to fill out a ballot for anything less than a massive presidential election, or maybe that we don’t believe our vote matters. Off campus, people are less kind. I’ve heard many locals grumble that CC students are too sequestered in our little bubble of privilege to recognize our political power, let alone care about a community we seem to avoid. Contrary to this perception, the truth is that CC students do vote, and we vote far more than students at other schools.
This February, the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement released its first report on voting trends at more than 1,000 U.S. colleges and universities. As a participant in this study, CC received a detailed report on campus voting trends over the course of nearly a decade, and the data is clear: CC students vote.
During the 2016 presidential election, 91.3% of CC students were registered to vote, and 81.9% of those students cast a ballot — a rate of voter participation nearly 30 percentage points higher than the national student average. Registration rates stayed high for the 2018 midterms at 81.9%, and 69.7% of registered students voted, again ranking almost 30 percentage points higher than the national average.
In both comparative and absolute terms, an astonishingly high number of CC students are active voters. Even during the 2014 midterm elections, 55% of CC students voted when national voter turnout was at 36.7%, the lowest rate since 1942.There was no year during the study when CC voter registration rates dropped below 80%.
The Colorado College Student Government Association Vice President of Outreach, Alanna Jackson ’23, showed me this data a few weeks back, and I was honestly astonished. But given my own experiences here on campus, I probably should have been less surprised. Just a few days before seeing this data, Jackson and I organized and ran a voter registration drive with New Era Colorado as a part of CC Fest.
The professional organizers that New Era had sent prepared us to have to chase down and corner students to get them to register, setting a goal of registering 30 people total during a six-hour registration drive. To everyone’s surprise, so many people wanted to register that we ran out of hard surfaces for them to use to fill out the forms.
I talked to first-years from all over the U.S. who were eager not just to register, but to volunteer and become activists in their own right. Over the course of CC Fest, we registered nearly 75 students, and as we were helping them pack up, one of the organizers told me that she’d never seen that much passion for democracy on a college campus.
A few days later, Jackson and I brought New Era back for a second registration drive during the Welcome Back Fair, and it was just as successful. International students and others ineligible to vote dropped by our booth to cheer us on or ask about other ways to get involved with politics. Friends casually volunteered to knock on doors for local candidates, and even strangers dropped headlong into discussion of the relative strength of their vote in Colorado versus their home states.
Colorado College students don’t just go through the motions of voting — we care about making our voices heard and engaging in politics beyond mailing in our ballots each November, and many of us take every opportunity to show commitment to voting and engagement. For all the anger and cynicism that sometimes defines political discourse on campus, there is an equal force of hope for the future and a commitment to do whatever needs to be done to make that future better.