Senior Fellow Raphael Schoeberlein is acutely aware of the fact that active participation and political involvement are the cornerstone of any healthy democracy. It was exactly for this reason that he was deeply disappointed in his social circle’s apathy during the 2016 elections, which more often than not, translated into not voting. These kinds of patterns on a large scale constitute some of the factors that cause low turnout rates.
When the 2018 midterm elections were just around the corner, Raphael started to recognize this same pattern occurring on his university campus in New York City. With a large portion of students coming from out of state, absentee voting was an inconvenient and complicated process for students attempting to vote in their home states’ elections. Overall, the midterm elections already have poor turnouts and generally fail to get voters’ interest, so Raphael decided this was his chance to step in and address this issue.
After his completion of the 2018 Copenhagen Humanity in Action Fellowship Program, he embarked on his Action Project, Transforming Apathy into Action, which aimed at increasing voter participation among students on his campus during the 2018 midterms.
By combining forces with the resident advisers, student senate, and the administration, Raphael succeeded in creating a stronger network on his campus, which led to more students becoming interested and actually participating.
To accomplish this he began by reaching out to all the resident advisers and encouraging them to help students register and vote for the election. Raphael worked closely with the student senate who leveraged their budget so that he could offer food, such as pizza or cake, to resident advisers and students who responded to his call. So as to make this a true community effort, and add a goal for communities to reach, the food incentives were offered only to the dorms that achieved a 70% turnout. He then reached out to and coordinated with the university’s ‘director of involvement and leadership’ who was already advancing efforts to facilitate voting for the student body. By combining forces with the resident advisers, student senate, and the administration, Raphael succeeded in creating a stronger network on his campus, which led to more students becoming interested and actually participating.
If even a single vote was cast that wouldn’t otherwise, this was all a success.
Not everything went perfectly. Only about half of all resident advisers Raphael contacted initially got back to him, and of those only a third really put in the work to make this happen. Despite these minor hiccups, his action project demonstrates how one person can help knit a network of people and stakeholders in a given place, spreading information, raising awareness, and sparking interest in things as vital to democracy as taking part in the elections. Even with the limited result, he is happy with the effort. As he put it, “if even a single vote was cast that wouldn’t otherwise, this was all a success.”