The proportion of Northern Illinois University students who cast ballots in the presidential election increased to 63.8% in 2020 — a 12.7% difference from 51.1% in 2016.
Voting data for NIU was released in October as part of the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLE), conducted annually by the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE) at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life.
“A healthy democracy depends on robust, and habitual, political participation,” said Chief of Staff to the President and Professor of Political Science Matthew Streb. “We are proud of those Huskies who participated in the political process in 2020, and hope to build on this momentum for next fall’s midterm elections. Political engagement cannot just be a focus every four years.”
Streb helped guide a steering committee that galvanized institutional efforts through the Huskies Vote initiative — working with individuals and partners across the campus and community to promote voter education and encourage students to go the polls.
“One of the main ways to be civically engaged is to vote,” said Julie Ann O’Connell, assistant director of NIU’s Center for Nonprofit and NGO Studies. “But students don’t always know how to register, or even why they should vote. Collaborating with the team to help students plan their participation was exciting, especially since we know that engaged Huskies will stay engaged citizens when they leave NIU.”
NIU’s efforts earned the university a Silver Seal from the nonpartisan ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, a national nonprofit dedicated to engaging students civically and democratically. Of students eligible to vote, 80.7% were registered before the 2020 election.
“Huskies were supported by an entire network of deputy registrars and numerous students, employees and community members in the months leading up to the election,” said Laura Vazquez, professor and undergraduate director of the Department of Communication. “Election Day, this volunteer team was available across campus or via video chat to answer questions. And it worked — students responded in an amazing way. This was truly a cross-campus educational effort.”
NIU’s voter turnout mirrored a national trend of students casting ballots at record rates, equivalent to that of the general public.
“What’s perhaps most remarkable about this increase is that it took place in the midst of a pandemic,” said Meg Junk, chief of staff for the Division of Student Affairs. “Thank you to every person who played a part in providing accessibility to the polls, down to standing out in the cold to give directions.”