Northeastern coalition promotes voting for 2022 election season

Although her parents were consistent voters, Olivia Oestreicher wasn’t interested in politics until her junior year of high school, when she found herself stuck at home in Shirley, Massachusetts due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She watched the massive protests erupt in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the challenges of the pandemic and the dramatic 2020 presidential race.

“All of these things happening in 2020 made me have an interest in politics and an interest in public service,” says Oestreicher, who, going into her sophomore year, is now a coordinator for the Northeastern Votes Coalition.

“Voting rights to me was the most all-encompassing way to directly impact all of the other movements that I cared about,” she says. “If you do not have a functioning democracy, how do you expect all of your other issues that you care about to get solved?”

The number of the Northeastern students who were eligible to vote and participated in the last presidential election amounted to 68% in 2020. The Northeastern Votes Coalition is hoping to bring this number to 75% in 2024. Data source: National Study of Learning, Voting , and Engagement, Tufts University. Illustration by Zach Christensen / Northeastern

The Northeastern Votes Coalition formed in 2020 under the leadership of Hilary Sullivan, director of Community Service and Civic Engagement in the Office of the Chancellor for Education Innovation, and Theodore Landsmark, distinguished professor of public policy and urban affairs and director of the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy.

“American politics over the past few years have been so fraught that a student-focused group directly engaged with the voting process seemed an appropriate vehicle for learning and for preparation for involvement in political activity later,” Landsmark says.

The work of the coalition, he says, enabled both domestic and international students to learn from each other about how voting works in the US and observe on the ground whether it is consistent with or different from what they were reading about voting in the media.

Landsmark credits Sullivan with envisioning the coalition and asking him to help engage some of the faculty in supporting student-driven initiatives to increase voting participation. Currently, the coalition consists of 40 members and welcomes students, faculty, staff and any other members of the Northeastern community.

“We are really trying a number of different strategies to advance voter registration, voter education, voter turnout, poll-working support, volunteering for elections,” says Sullivan.

The coalition has some specific targets of how and where they want voter engagement to rise.

According to Tufts University’s National Study for Learning, Voting and Engagement, only 18.8% of the Northeastern students eligible to vote participated in the 2014 midterm elections, Sullivan says. Participation rose dramatically in 2018 to 42.6%.

“Our coalition now has a goal that for 2022 we [will] rise another five points, so we are hoping that we will have at least 47.6% of our students voting,” Sullivan says.

Their lofty goal for the 2024 presidential elections is to increase voter participation to 75%, compared to 57% in 2016 and 68% in 2020.

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