Gustavus Voter Engagement Team Wins Democracy Shark Tank

The Gustavus Voter Engagement Team has developed a series of educational events and get-out-the-vote efforts across campus.
Posted on October 12th, 2020 by

With Election Day just around the corner, many people are talking about voting and the confusion they may feel when it comes to voting by mail. Luckily, Gustavus Adolphus College students have an award-winning team to help them through the process.

The Gustavus Voter Engagement Team, consisting of Sara Kasel ’21, Charlotte Lim ’21, Ben Menke ’22,and Christopher Ortiz ’22–and advised by Amy Pehrson and Megan Ruble–was awarded first place in the Democracy Shark Tank Competition. Hosted by LeadMN, the competition allowed higher education teams to pitch their ideas for supporting student voter engagement to a panel of “sharks,” who had $10,000 worth of funding to help support campuses’ work.

Planning for the competition started last fall, when the group got together and started putting together their plan which includes voter registration events and nonpartisan education.

The team’s goal for the upcoming election is to register 85% of the student body, up from 80% in 2018. Of the registered students, the team hopes to increase the turnout rate to 90%. The team also has been engaging in nonpartisan programming to increase voter education.

“I think it is very important for all voters to find the things that are most important to them (housing, environment, health care) and do the research on where the candidates stand before you go into the voting booth,” said adviser of the Voter Engagement Team and director of the Gustavus Community Engagement Center Amy Pehrson.

Christopher Ortiz, one of the members of the team, has been working hard to engage members of other student organizations in their work.

“[One of my] short-term goals is to have a student rep for each class to help answer questions about voting, so that’s what I’m working on right now. Previously it’s been reaching out to social media accounts of other student organizations to get the word out about our website.” Ortiz said.

In addition to encouraging students to vote, the team is also sensitive to students who may not be able to. They still have ways, however, for students to be involved in the democratic process, including making the debates available for students to watch.

The team is also working on finding students who are interested in being poll workers.

Pehrson has been engaged with voting at Gustavus for years, and has found that looking at voting data reveals interesting–and sometimes perplexing–insights about student voting behavior.

“Broken down by majors, one of the areas less likely to vote is pre-health students. We scratch our heads at that,” Pehrson said. “Maybe students looking into pre-health would be interested in what candidates have to say about healthcare.”

The Voter Engagement Team is especially proud of how their website has come together, and wants people to check it out to find nearly all the information about voting they will need, including links on how to get registered, instructional videos, fact checks on political claims, where candidates stand on different issues, and sample ballots.

Gustavus has a strong history of voter engagement, including being named winner of the Minnesota Secretary of State’s inaugural Ballot Bowl in 2016, when the College ranked first among 68 colleges and universities in the state with a student participation rate of 63%.

“Voting, for me, means the ability to have your voice heard. Historically there have been a lot of groups who haven’t had the right to vote, so to have that is really huge,” Ortiz said.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad


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