Voting in a Pandemic: WashPIRG’s student chapter discusses democracy in 2020 with Secretary of State Kim Wyman

I joined WashPIRG's student chapter's discussion on voting in a pandemic with Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman. With more states working to implement vote-by-mail and other safety precautions, I ask: What can we do to help?

Nicole Walter

Former Advocate, WashPIRG

This week I joined WashPIRG Students’ New Voters Project campaign at the University of Washington’s Zoom Discussion on Democracy and Voting in a Pandemic with Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman and USPIRG Democracy for the People Director Joe Ready.


WashPIRG Students Intern Olivia Harber (left) and Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman (right) on the remote discussion.


The New Voters Project is the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan youth voter mobilization effort. Since the 1980s, Student PIRGs staff and volunteers have helped over 2 million students register to vote, and have made over 2.5 million get-out-the-vote contacts.

Due to COVID-19, people across the country are retooling everything from voter registration drives to Election Day processes to ensure all elections are safe and fair. 

Washington became the second state in the country to transition entirely to vote-by-mail in 2009. Since then, WashPIRG and our Student chapters have advocated for policies that make it easier for eligible people to register and turn out to vote, including same-day registration and the Future Voter Program, which allows 16- and 17-year-olds to sign up to be automatically registered to vote when they turn 18.

With schools across the state operating remotely, many volunteers in our Student chapters have moved home and asked what they can do to help ensure safe elections, come November, across the country.

The answer is clear: update your registration today, and make sure everyone you know is up-to-date. Not every state has same-day registration and, with social distancing, we need to do everything we can to make sure that as many people as possible are registered before the deadline to avoid masses of people in one place.

Historically, in-person peer-to-peer voter registration has been the most effective. Our chapters at the University of Washington and The Evergreen State College typically hold big in-person events and visit large lecture halls to register thousands of students to vote. In a recent study of their work, individuals both registered and contacted by NVP turned out to vote at a rate of 86.3%, compared to a baseline of 59.5%.

But with the transition to remote learning and the very real possibility of continuation into the fall, voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts are going to look a lot different. WashPIRG Students is working this year to meet students where they are, including working with campus administration to get voter registration emails sent to every student with their website, pledging faculty to allow virtual class announcements, and launching huge social media campaigns with student vote coalitions.

In the meantime, to secure vote-by-mail in Washington and across the country as more states transition, WashPIRG Students has launched a letter-writing campaign to Congress calling for emergency funding for the United States Postal Service, which will be critical in ensuring every eligible voter receives and can return their ballot.


Nicole Walter

Former Advocate, WashPIRG

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