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Election Engagement for Higher Education

July 24, 2006

There are a little over 100 days left until mid-term elections in November. This election will not only have an impact at the federal level but also at state legislatures around the country. These newly elected state legislators and governors will have a tremendous impact on public and private universities around the country.

Too many institutions wait until after the election to educate elected officials. But the election is often an ideal time for this to happen. The interaction should be occurring between university advocates (alumni, faculty, staff and students) and legislative candidates, not by university leadership, because election time is often when elected officials are the most likely to listen to constituents.

Here are ways that you can encourage advocates to get involved:

1. Vote
While this may be the most obvious, it is still important to encourage people to vote and be registered to vote. Meet with student government and organization leaders to learn how your institution can help them register students to vote. Federal law actually requires that higher education institutions provide voter registration cards to every student.

2. Become an educated voter
Encourage advocates to research where candidates stand on issues that affect your institution. Provide advocates with a list of questions for candidates.

3. Urge candidates to support your institution
Many candidates will be conducting door-to-door visits and be at many community events. These are great opportunities for advocates to talk to candidates about the value of the institution. Provide advocates with some talking points. The easier you make it the more likely it is that advocates will carry out your requests.

4. Encourage advocates to donate to, or volunteer for, candidates they personally support
During the waning days of a legislative session, legislators are more likely to listen to people with whom they have a relationship. Campaigns are a good opportunity for your advocates to develop stronger relationships with elected officials, which may eventually benefit your institution. Make it clear that advocates can support whichever candidate they support and that the institution does not support or endorse candidates.

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