Amber Heidenreich and Augusto Vladusic table outside of the Yellowjacket Union on Sept. 22. In an effort to promote public health and engage voters, Jackets Vote gave out free masks to students who signed up to register to vote.
Photo by Michael Michelizzi
New to the University of Wisconsin-Superior this year is a voter engagement group known as Jackets Vote. Funded by a grant given to the UWS Link Center by the Menard Center for the Study of Institutions and Innovations, Jackets Vote was inspired by the University’s Civic Action Plan that was created in 2018. This action plan identified increased voter engagement as a long-term goal.
Due to COVID-19, Amber Heidenreich and Augusto Vladusic have been working virtually as interns on the project since July. Also on the team are Campus Compact CEEP Fellows Gavin Sordelet and Zoe Tietz, along with Link Center supervisors Katelyn Baumann and Jenice Meyer.
Heidenreich described the organization’s biggest goal as being able to reach all students, supporting them in registration education, and voting efforts. “Our biggest accomplishment. has been the coalition we have created. I believe we have been able to connect with every enrolled student in some way.”
Vladusic thought similarly, saying, “Our main focus is to give students the necessary tools to understand how to vote and successfully cast their ballots, while [also] promoting a civically engaged life.”
The group has partnered with Chancellor Reneé Wachter’s office to send out strategic and timely emails to all students. The University’s marketing and communications team also helped to create the Jackets Vote logo and further promote the group on the University’s social media pages.
Due to COVID, Heidenreich said that turnout to events was expected to be, and has been, low. However, because of this expectation, Jackets Vote was able to focus their efforts on creating easily accessible information for all students. “We have partnered with the institution’s web designer to create a webpage directly connected to the UWS main page. We also partnered with the Canvas administrator…to create a Canvas course.” Heidenreich believes that these efforts have helped students have access to the information that they need whenever it is most convenient for them.
One of the ways in which Jackets Vote tried to reach out to students was by handing out masks while registering students to vote. Starting on National Voter Registration Day in late September and going until the Minnesota online voter registration deadline of Oct. 13, Jackets Vote tabled in various locations around campus, handing out face masks to students who visited the table and registered to vote.
Additionally, the team with Jackets Vote created the Jackets Vote Challenge for students, engaging students with points and prizes for taking part in various election day activities. Challenges range from something like following the social media channels of Jackets Vote and the Link Center to attending presidential debate watch parties and turning out to vote on Nov. 3.
While Jackets Vote won’t have exact voter statistics until after the Nov. 3 election, they do know that about 100 students have used TurboVote through the Jackets Vote webpage. Of these 100 students, two-thirds have requested further registration assistance. Heidenreich also notes that around 1,000 students are enrolled in the Canvas course, nearly half of the UW-Superior student population. “I have high hopes that our work has helped students get registered, but we won’t know until our data comes back.”
Voting does not come without its challenges, however. One of the unique challenges UW-Superior faces is its geographical location on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Each state has developed their own voting laws, which can lead to difficulty in finding accurate information for some students. “Trying to create just one message was hard because there are so many different circumstances and options to vote. We did not want to come across as us pushing or forcing students to vote in a specific way, so we did our best to create ‘what if…’ scenarios in our communication and information sharing,” said Heidenreich. When students have reached out directly to the Jackets Vote representatives, it has been much easier to answer voting questions.
Heidenreich stresses the importance of students knowing what they need to bring to vote and where they need to vote. “There is nothing worse than getting turned away at the polls because you do not have the proper paperwork or identification or you’re in the wrong place. Our democracy cannot work unless everyone participates.”
This last point is central to Heidenreich’s beliefs. She believes that when young adults choose not to vote, their voices remain unheard. Elected officials, knowing that the youth turnout will be low, generally will then not represent the views of young voters. “We have the ability to shape the future of our country at this level — but only if we all cast our ballots.”
Vladusic held similar beliefs, and even offered a solution for fixing the problem. “I would like to see more spaces in the university for students to have debates and talks about these kinds of topics. This would allow us to better understand the problems we need to address and hopefully encourage students to become more civically active.”
If you are looking for more information about Jackets Vote or voter engagement in general, please head to www.uwsuper.edu/vote.