Keeping Up With… Absentee Ballot Day

This edition of Keeping Up With… was written by Kristina J. Alayan, Mary Evangeliste, and Gwendolyn Reece.

Kristina J. Alayan is the Associate Dean for Library and Technology at the University of Maryland, email: kalayan@law.umaryland.edu; Mary Evangeliste is a Civic Literacy Instructor at the San Jose State University iSchool, email: mary.evangeliste@sjsu.edu; and Gwendolyn Reece is the Associate University Librarian and Director of Research, Teaching, and Learning at American university, email: greece@american.edu.

Introduction

Tuesday, September 20, 2022, is Absentee Ballot Day. For the past four years, a community of librarians has been dedicated to hosting Absentee Ballot Day events at their libraries. Join this important civic engagement event by hosting Absentee Ballot Day at your library this year. 

Why Absentee Ballot Day?

Absentee Ballot Day is held on the same day as National Voter Registration Day but with a twist that relates specifically to the users we serve. In the U.S., the voting age is 18, which means that for most students their first national voting experience is while enrolled in higher educational institutions. By participating, your institution can help to center colleges and universities' librarians as a trusted resource for non-partisan information and help students navigate the complicated voting rules from their home states. Since 2018, participating institutions have built a community dedicated to hosting Absentee Ballot Day along with the resources and support needed to implement the event as a turn-key initiative. 

The Absentee Ballot Day planning group applauds those in higher education who have engaged in National Voter Registration Day already, however, we’ve identified a major issue in registering students to vote in the state where they attend school. This is especially true for the District of Columbia (DC), where Absentee Ballot Day was born. If students attend college outside of their home state, they give up an important vote in local and state elections by registering in their institution’s state. Moreover, every time a student moves they need to re-register. 

All 50 states allow voters to use an Absentee Ballot but the rules vary considerably, thus Absentee Ballot Day becomes an active civic literacy event where students learn both from librarians and their peers. When students apply for an absentee ballot from their own state they receive a mail-in ballot which allows them to stay on campus and research their ballot. And like most habits, the earlier a student integrates voting into their life the more they vote.[1] Or as our chairperson, Gwendolyn Reece says “Academic libraries should claim the fundamental goal of helping our students become empowered, information literate global citizens.” Lastly, voter turnout among 18 to 24-year-olds proves that students are ready and eager to vote. When comparing Census data from the 2014 midterms to the 2018 midterms we see that 18–24-year-olds reported voting at an almost 15-point increase.[2]

Absentee Ballot Day Events

Absentee Ballot Day originated at American University Library in Washington, DC, in 2018, and more than 1,000 students lined up to obtain their absentee ballots.[3] For more detailed information about the first Absentee Ballot Day, please refer to the 2020 article in College and Research Libraries News written by Gwendolyn Reece titled “Absentee Ballot Day in the library: Empowering students to vote.” Since then, many other colleges and university libraries have joined the Absentee Ballot Day Initiative, including Howard University Libraries, the University of Michigan Libraries, and Duquesne University Library. As the initiative began gaining steam in 2020, the COVID-19 virus hit and, like most other events, Absentee Ballot Day pivoted to online. The member libraries decided to move to an online-only event that was dubbed Absentee Ballot Week to provide more exposure online. 

A listserv was created for the 2020 General Election, two planning meetings with our community and a LibGuide for voting in each state were created — adaptable for each community. Additionally, email templates for each state were provided. Along with a social media toolkit that each librarian could use to announce the week on their social media platforms and share with student organization partners (such as Student Government). Results were shared with library colleagues and groups that include the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA),[4] Washington Research Library Consortium (WRLC), and at virtual library conferences. 

Although it was difficult to assess the success of Absentee Ballot Week in 2020, the LibGuide from American University Library received 3,737 hits. The LibGuide adopted by Howard University Law Library numbered 2,331 hits, and the Request your Ballot toolkit received more than 1,800 views.

For 2022, the member librarians are determined to bring Absentee Ballot Day back in person. They will continue to provide the voting LibGuides, email templates, and social media toolkit. As a grassroots operation with no bureaucracy and no funding, the committee asks that you share the event idea with your networks and that your institution joins this critical civic literacy event.

Conclusion

Does centering the librarian as the facilitator of non-partisan information and voting access sounds interesting to you? If so please consider joining the Absentee Ballot  Day community. Finally, please email Gwendolyn Reece at greece@american.edu to be put on the Absentee Ballot Day listserv. The planning group will bring the community together in August for a meeting where they will share their updated LibGuides and Social Media Graphics. If you have a specific question about budget, resources etc. please write any of the authors at their email above. 

Notes

[1]  “Teens and Elections” CIRCLE Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, accessed June 6,2022, https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/teens-and-elections.

[2] “Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2018: 18 to 24 Year Olds” United States Census Bureau, accessed June 6,2022, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/voting-and-registration/p20-583.html.

[3] Gwendolyn Reece, “Absentee Ballot Day in the library: Empowering students to vote.” College and Research Library News, Vol 81, No 5 (2020),
https://crln.acrl.org/index.php/crlnews/article/view/24419/32250.

[4] Mary Evangeliste and Gwendolyn Reece, Justice, Power & Voter Engagement in Libraries, BCALA, A critical moment: libraries, civic engagement & black communities, July 8, 2020. https://www.facebook.com/blackcaucusala/videos/200166568085342.
 

Additional Resources

American University Library Absentee Ballot Day Tool Kit

Request a Ballot by State: American University Library

Request a Ballot by State: Howard University Law Library

Request a Ballot Toolkit