University of Iowa, local civic engagement orgs to host a virtual voter-engagement summit

The UI is hosting a virtual 2020 Iowa Voter Summit will cover digital best practices, voter engagement in a pandemic and the struggle for suffrage in its sessions.

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Katie Goodale

The Hawk the Vote website is seen on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020.

Natalie Dunlap, News Reporter


The University of Iowa is virtually hosting the 2020 Iowa Voter Summit on Friday in collaboration with the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, Iowa Campus Compact and the Students Learn Student Vote (SLSV) Coalition in an effort to inform young and first-time voters.

With Election Day less than two months away and absentee ballots making their way to mailboxes in the next few weeks, it’s a critical time for those hoping to mobilize voters.

Kathryn Quintin, partnership manager at the SLSV Coalition, said the group has helped organize 34 state summits in 25 states in the last several years.

“They’ve been wildly successful and we’ve just felt that when we create the statewide summit, then it gives campuses the specific information that they need to create their vote plans, as well as think through all of the things that they need to do to get the ball rolling,” Quintin said.

She added that the goal of the summit is to build voting infrastructure and skills to keep students engaged in the political process.

College students can register to vote either in Iowa City or their hometowns, but not both. Students can check their voter registration status at vote.org or on the secretary of state’s website. In order to reduce crowding at election sites, county auditors and voting advocates are encouraging voters to vote by mail. Voters in Iowa can request an absentee ballot until Oct. 24 and submit a completed absentee ballot by mail until Nov. 3. Voters can also vote on Election Day.

The sessions offered on Sept. 25 from noon to 4 p.m. touch on topics such as the struggle for suffrage, engagement during the pandemic, and best practices for digital get-out-the-voter efforts.

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UI junior and Associate Director of Hawk the Vote Joseph Verry said he and other organizers involved with the summit reached out to Iowa’s three regent-governed universities and private colleges to find representatives across the state, “so that the content that we are creating and presenting at the summit is versatile, no matter the size of the institution.”

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate will give the welcoming address.

“This is a unique group,” Pate said in an interview with The Daily Iowan, “Because we are actually prepping these individuals to be leaders who will spearhead whatever initiatives are taken on their campuses to be able to bring young people in to get them more civically engaged.”

He said attendants can make a difference in inspiring young people to be more politically active.

According to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, there was an 18.6 percent increase in voter turnout among people ages 18 to 21 between the 2014 and 2018 midterm elections on the UI campus.

Verry said he’s hoping to see the same increase, or greater, between 2016 and 2020.

“With how the organizing has been going and how I’ve seen social media and my friends interact with political messages,” he said. “I really think that that’s possible.”

He credits the voting ambassadors from Hawk the Vote — a nonpartisan get-out-the-vote student organization — for the success of organizing. Voting ambassadorship emerged as a way to engage students during the pandemic, along with the  90% Challenge.

The challenge asks campus organizations to have 90 percent of their members to register to vote and half of the organization’s affiliates to participate in a virtual civic engagement workshop.

“This 90% Challenge is a way that we still were able to interact with student organizations to make this fun virtual challenge out of it so that organizations can challenge each other to be civically engaged,” Verry said.

Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert will be answering questions with other auditors and the American Civil Liberties Union in one of the sessions. Weipert said the pandemic has hampered voter engagement, since this year efforts to get people ready to vote must happen through the news and social media, rather than in person.

“We do have a lot of groups stepping up to help out,” he said of UI Democrats, UI Republicans and the Johnson County League of Women Voters. “But it’s still not the same as us being out there with them, unfortunately.”

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