Students lead nonpartisan voter registration effort

Isaac Trice - CEEP
Isaac Trice ('14) helps register JMU students to vote in next month’s general election in Virginia.

Isaac Trice (’14) believes in the power of individuals coming together to effect positive change. “We tend to put people like Martin Luther King Jr. and other community organizers on a pedestal,” the May graduate says. “But you don’t have to be a perfect person to make a difference. It just takes a lot of imperfect people working together.”

"You don’t have to be a perfect person to make a difference. It just takes a lot of imperfect people working together.” —
Isaac Trice ('14)

Last fall, Trice and fellow social work majors Katie Rogers ('14), Jordan Wray ('14) and Delaney Garrett ('14) took part in a Campus Election Engagement Project pilot to get college students involved in off-year and mid-term elections. Inspired by a conversation with CEEP’s then-Virginia field director and now national field director, Sam Menefee Libey, the group decided to make nonpartisan election engagement at JMU their semester project for their Social Work Practice in Macro Systems (SOWK 467) class.

“As we incorporate opportunities for our students to work with real organizations on community, organizational or policy issues in our macro practice course, it seemed a like a great fit,” said instructor Laura Hunt Trull.

The group canvassed, secured pledges, distributed voter guides through the student newspaper, and spoke with students, both collectively in classrooms and individually at campus events like pre-football game tailgate parties. They convened a weekly meeting with student government leaders and campus organizations including College Democrats, College Republicans and College Libertarians. They handed out election-related gear provided by CEEP’s partner, Rock the Vote. And they continued the push on Election Day, starting at 5 a.m. and working until the polls closed.

“Their commitment to registering students to vote, encouraging voter participation and raising awareness of the importance of civic engagement for young people was inspiring and embodied the core values of social work,” Trull said. “It was easy to support them with their endeavors, and they easily connected it back to important concepts in class such as definition of community and organizational culture.”

When the work was done, the team had collected over 1,000 voter pledges. While it’s difficult to say exactly how much of an impact JMU student voters had on the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election, statewide the youth vote as a percentage of the overall electorate was 3 percent higher compared to 2009, and exit polling put turnout among 18- to 29-year-olds at 26 percent. “I’d like to think we had something to do with that,” Trice says.

After graduation, Trice went to work for CEEP as the organization’s Virginia coordinator. He has been traveling to college campuses throughout the state to encourage students to register to vote, volunteer in campaigns, educate themselves and, most importantly, turn out at the polls in November.

Young people, regardless of political affiliation, should make their voices heard in the election process, Trice says. “If we don’t vote, then issues that impact us in the future aren’t getting the attention that they deserve.”

Trice is working with a new team of social work majors under the direction of Dr. Hyong Yeom to mobilize JMU students to vote in next month’s general election in Virginia, which includes candidates for U.S. Senate.

CEEP is now holding up the academic credit model implemented at Madison as an alternative to providing stipends to lead interns at campuses nationwide. Trice believes the social work curriculum is a natural fit for student volunteers because of its focus on engagement, community organizing and policy implementation. “You can take the skills that you learned and put them into practice.”

The deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 4 general election in Virginia is Oct. 14.


Back to Top

Published: Thursday, October 9, 2014

Last Updated: Thursday, January 21, 2021

Related Articles