Cornell Votes, a nonpartisan student organization, launched a new voting ambassador program at the start of the semester, aiming to boost civic engagement through peer-to-peer outreach.
“It’s a program to have students pick up a leadership role to understand themselves how to get more civically engaged, and to get other students to understand their civic responsibilities,” said Rahul Verma ’24, the organization’s community engagement department chair.
Sponsored by the University, Cornell Votes was founded in 2020 to increase voter turnout among students on campus. The voting ambassador initiative builds upon existing programming within Cornell Votes, allowing students from inside and outside of the organization to participate in civic engagement activities.
“Our motto is we don’t care who you vote for, or where you vote, just vote,” said Elena Woo ’24, president of Cornell Votes. “Our main purpose is to engage students on campus by offering these opportunities to get experience, take charge and help other students.”
Cornell Votes aims to provide hands-on experiences for ambassadors and volunteers to take the lead in guiding new voters, according to Lauren Sherman ’24, vice president of external operations.
While there is no formal application process, prospective ambassadors must fill out the Cornell Votes interest form. They also need to attend a training session that covers voting essentials. After a short quiz and a tabling experience accompanied by an executive board member, ambassadors can sign up for events on their own.
Ambassadors do not have to be a part of the student organization, meaning they do not have to attend all Cornell Votes meetings.
“The most important thing is that there is a process of being able to look up the correct information to provide to students,” Woo said.
The board acknowledged that assisting students may seem intimidating at first, but it is not the responsibility of ambassadors to know everything about voting.
“We have students from all fifty states, which have completely different timelines and rules for absentee voting,” Woo said. “It is really difficult to expect the voting ambassadors to know all of these little details, so we always emphasize that it’s fine to say that you don’t know how to answer a question.”
Cornell Votes also plans to launch a new website later this semester, which will serve as an access hub to guide both students and ambassadors.
“It’s about being able to understand which resources to look at, and to do it with students while they are there,” Verma said.
From a Mann Library information booth to tables targeted towards athletes exiting Teagle Hall, Cornell Votes is strategic about reaching as many students as possible. Voting ambassadors will table at libraries and other public spaces with high traffic where they can achieve maximum outreach, according to Sherman.
“We’ve had a setup on the Arts Quad, Engineering Quad and a lot of stuff on the Ag Quad and Mann Library,” Verma said. “We’re trying to get as many [students] registered and [ambassadors] trained before the fall, so when things start picking up, we’ll be ready to go.”
Cornell Votes has a history of demonstrated success in raising democratic participation across campus. This semester, ambassadors will be focusing on registration, absentee voting and student assembly elections following record-low turnout in the freshman and transfer representative elections this past fall.
Training workshops for prospective ambassadors will also be held at least once a month throughout the course of this semester, in advance of both this year’s election and next year’s presidential election.
“From my experience tabling over the years and helping train students, it really is a continued learning process for both me and everyone involved,” Verma said, who was recently elected student assembly department of elections chair. “It’s a lot of work, but it is rewarding at the end of the day.”
The executive board also expressed gratitude to their volunteers and partners who have helped create tangible impacts in raising electoral participation.
“[Low voter turnout amongst younger voters] is a continued problem throughout the country,” Sherman said. “We have to be our own leaders and take charge. I’m really excited by the progress that we’ve made, and the progress that we’ll continue to make.”