Mercer Wins 'Highest Student Voter Participation' in Southern Conference's Voter Participation Championship
Mercer to be honored during Nov. 4 football game vs. Samford
MACON – In an attempt to address one of American democracy's biggest problems – low and unequal participation that leads to low levels of engagement beyond college – the Southern Conference launched “SoCon Votes,” the first NCAA Division I conference championship for voter participation.
Concluding this first-of-its-kind competition, Mercer University claimed the conference championship for Highest Student Voter Participation with a record-setting 56.4 percent of students participating in the 2016 general election.
Mercer's performance in the National Study on Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) report revealed an 80-percent voter registration rate of students and that an impressive 4,373 students voted in the 2016 general election. Mercer's team tasked with overseeing this initiative was led by Hannah Vann, associate director of Research That Reaches Out.
“This competition really galvanized our students in the election process in a way that was different from the past,” said Dr. Douglas R. Pearson, vice president and dean of students at Mercer. “We saw an increase in debate watches, voter registration drives, political chalking and overall discussion that all ran under the banner of the 'SoCon Votes' competition. Our students really wanted to win, and there was a lot of hard work and energy behind this competition, so I was pleased to hear about the final results and Mercer securing first place.”
An awards ceremony for Mercer will take place during the University's Homecoming football game against SoCon rival Samford University on Nov. 4 during the first timeout of the first quarter.
Samford claimed the second-place award, with efforts led by Anika Strand, coordinator of student leadership and involvement. According to the NSLVE report, Samford's student voter participation rates topped out at 55.1 percent in 2016 – rising 3.5 points from 2012.
“The right to vote is a special American privilege, and it is gratifying to see programs designed to encourage college students to become involved in elections,” said SoCon Commissioner John Iamarino.
The conventional wisdom has long been that millennials demonstrate a general apathy when it comes to voting. However, a recent landmark study—and the first major one released on 2016 youth voting trends—from Tufts University and the NSLVE, titled “Democracy Counts: A Report on U.S. College and University Student Voting,” tells a very different story. In fact, student turnout improved by seven percent in 2016, compared to the presidential election in 2012.
“The improvements by students at Mercer and Samford show what's possible when leaders on college campuses stand up to support student civic engagement,” said Joey Wozniak, who developed “SoCon Votes” as a senior at Mercer with a grant from the Knight Foundation Fund at the Community Foundation of Central Georgia and technical expertise from the Academic Exchange and Council of Chief Student Affairs Officers within the Southern Conference.
About SoCon Votes
“SoCon Votes” is the first Division I athletic conference championship for democratic engagement. This program aims to support the 80,000 students in the Southern Conference to become active and engaged citizens. Each of the 10 schools in the Southern Conference vies for the conference championship for Highest Voter Turnout or Most Improved Voter Turnout. Since the creation of “SoCon Votes,” the Big Ten Athletic Conference has followed suit and launched the “Big Ten Voting Challenge.”