Award-winning participation

Wheaton wins honors for efforts to grow student voter engagement

The 2020 presidential election engaged the largest and most diverse group of college students in U.S. history. Wheaton College has received multiple awards for nonpartisan student voter participation efforts in the election from the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge.

ALL IN has recognized Wheaton with the Gold Seal Award for being a campus with 70 to 79 percent voter participation or higher in the 2020 presidential election. Wheaton also won the  Most Improved Voter Registration Rate Champion Award and the Boston Votes Most Improved Voter Turnout—Four-Year Award for the state challenges.

At awards ceremonies held on November 8 and 9, ALL IN honored Wheaton and a select group of higher education institutions, educators and students for extraordinary work in student voter engagement during the 2020 presidential election. More than 840 institutions enrolling close to nine million students participated in the ALL IN Challenge.

The Wheaton community contributed to successful voter turnout on many fronts, including through events, a student voter registration web page and online chats for answering questions.

For example, at “Politics in the Dark” in March 2020, students were invited to ask any questions about the 2020 elections, current events or the political system. The event was co-hosted by the Center for Social Justice and Community Impact (SJCI) and the student-run Wheaton College Democrats, the Wheaton College Conservatives club and the House of Residents Engaged in Political Science (House of REPS).

“The importance of voting is paramount to any healthy democracy, and though it’s not our primary focus, it is strongly encouraged by our club as an essential civic duty,” said psychology major Andrew Kniska ’22, president of the Wheaton College Conservatives and a member of the House of REPS.

In September 2020, to promote National Voter Registration Day, the Madeleine Clark Wallace Library provided voting information about registering and requesting ballots to members of the Wheaton community through its chat service.

SJCI partnered with the Alumni Relations team on the social media campaign #WheatonMAVotes. SJCI also created educational posts on Instagram for students about voting, registering and obtaining absentee ballots leading up to the election.

“As the new director of the Center for Social Justice and Community Impact, I am proud to have joined this campus community and immediately witness a clear example of social responsibility, which is Wheaton shorthand for civic engagement,” said Leonard Breton, who joined Wheaton on November 1.

“There is power in the student voice. Voter participation at all levels is one of the best ways to amplify those voices, especially among the well-informed, inclusive, politically active student population,” Breton said. “This is the sort of positive trend that needs to continue and we’re committed to doing our part to ensure that it does.”

The ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge is a national, nonpartisan initiative of Civic Nation, a nonprofit organization. Ensuring that students are registered to vote and participate in all elections is a stated key component of the initiative.

“The rise in voter participation and engagement for college students in last year’s presidential election amidst a global pandemic was tremendous and will undoubtedly be tied to the tireless efforts of the dedicated students, faculty, administrators and partner organizations that are part of the ALL IN Challenge network,” Jen Domagal-Goldman, executive director of the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, said in a statement.

The 2020 election cycle saw unprecedented voter registration and turnout among college students, according to the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement, a research study of the Institute for Democracy in Higher Education at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University.

The Institute for Democracy reported that 66 percent of college students voted in the 2020 election, a 14-point increase from 2016. The data provided by the institute shows that Wheaton’s voting rate increased by 34.0 to 75.7 percent in 2020.

In November 2019, Wheaton also won an ALL In award for growing voter participation in the 2018 midterm election.