According to the US Census Bureau, only 55.7% of eligible voters voted in the 2016 presidential election. For young adults age 18 to 24, that number dropped below 40%. At Missouri State University, a student-run organization hopes to push young people to the polls.
On a Monday afternoon the MSU football team files into Plaster Stadium and sits facing a group of over a dozen students and volunteers at tables on the field. Dr. Suzanne Walker-Pacheco addresses the socially distanced crowd.
“Hey, I’m glad to be here," Walker-Pacheco says. "First of all, what are you guys going to be doing November 3 this year?"
The football team responds, "Voting!”
On this day, Paws to the Polls has set up tables where the football team registers to vote. Deputy registrars from the League of Women Voters sign the registration forms.
Walker-Pacheco is an anthropology professor at MSU. Last fall, she taught a civic engagement class called Action Anthropology, and asked students in the class if they could brainstorm ways to increase youth turnout in elections.
“Students gave me a lot of ideas," she tells KSMU. "I asked if they’d be interested in working with me this year on an initiative, and they jumped at the opportunity.”
That initiative became Paws to the Polls, now involving over a dozen students. Walker-Pacheco says Paws to the Polls is holding voter registration and education events on campus now until the election. The organization also produces videos and talks to freshman classes about getting out the vote.
Emily Reichgeld is a graduate student at MSU involved with Paws to the Polls. She says the group is setting down long-term goals to change the relationship students have with voting and community involvement.
“We don’t plan to be here for just the 2020 election year," Reichgeld says. "We plan to completely transform the culture of voting at Missouri State, making the students engaged in their community through civic engagement.”
Reichgeld says the end goal is to convince the university to make Election Day a holiday for students and staff to vote.
Missouri State University’s Welcome Center is a universal polling place for anyone registered in Greene County. The deadline to register to vote is October 7.
Learn more at Paws to the Polls' website.