11/07/2012 11:50 am ET Updated Jan 07, 2013

TurboVote's College Outreach

With Election Day behind us, it's worth taking a hard look at both how we run our elections and how we educate our citizens about participating in democracy.

Let's just take a look at the facts. Out of all the democracies in the world, the United States ranks 138th in voter participation#. Only half of us are voting in presidential elections, and between 10% and 40% of us are voting in local and primary elections.

When voter participation is this low, it makes it easy for special interests and insiders to control the outcome of elections. The major reason voter participation is this low, is that voting doesn't fit the way we live.

At TurboVote, we provide an online service that keeps users registered and voting in all their elections; from local to presidential; no matter where they move; for the rest of their lives. It's a tool that improves our civic infracture. And while we serve all Americans, we've found that college students - a mobile and technically skilled population - find the service particularly useful.
TurboVote provides an improvement to our civic infrastructure that enables our educational institutions to mold students with better civic habits.

Technology can make sharing voting as easy as sharing a link, creating incredible possibilities. But these possibilities cannot be realized without the support of creative leaders who can turn vision into reality.

At Harvard, Laura Simolaris from Institute of Politics inserted a table with laptops into the class registration process and signed up a third of the freshman class in a single afternoon. At UNC-Charlotte, Provost Joan Lorden sent a schoolwide email that got 400 students signed up right before the registration deadline for the North Carolina primary in March. At Miami Dade College, Dean of Students Lourdes Perez who built TurboVote into a weekly activity day in April that got over 500 students signed up across eight campuses during one lunch hour. At University of Florida, Shelby Taylor of the Graham Center got a link to placed on their intranet site that got over 1,000 students signed up before freshman even showed up for orientation in August.

These early trendsetters set a precedent for university leaders across the country. 58 colleges have followed their lead and started building voting into the infrastructure of their campuses - with great success. At Hobart and Williams Smith College in Geneva, New York over 35% of students are now signed up for TurboVote. At University of Florida, over 3,000 students signed up and another 2,000 at the University of Akron. Twelve colleges signed up more than 20% of their student body and eleven signed up over 1000 voters. Collectively, those 58 schools got over 34,000 students signed up for TurboVote.

What the leaders at TurboVote's partner schools have proved this fall is that university leaders armed with good tools can make voting fit the way America's college students live.

After what we've seen this fall, we're ready to make a bold prediction.

A time is coming - soon -- when every college will provide every student with all the materials and information he or she needs to vote in every election from local to presidential. For the 884,000 students attending TurboVote partner schools, it's already the status quo.

Research now shows that voting is habitual action - someone who has voted twice in a row becomes likely to vote in most elections for the rest of their lives. If the leaders of the other 5,000 colleges in America decide to join Laura, Joan, Lourdes, Shelby and their colleagues at TurboVote's 58 partner schools in stepping up to the plate, they can play a critical role in revitalizing our democracy.