Stanford students registered the most students – 1,046 – to vote as California residents in the 2022 general election, winning the state’s Ballot Bowl among 234 California colleges and universities.

California Secretary of State Shirley Weber presented a certificate of recognition to Cameron Lange, ’24, who accepted the award on behalf of the students who contributed their time to StanfordVotes. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

California Secretary of State Shirley Weber congratulated students for these efforts on Thursday during an event hosted by the Haas Center for Public Service and the Office of External Relations.

“I’m just excited to see you folks so engaged in this whole process, being innovative about it and committed to it, because I know what happens at this point in your life, it will become your life forever,” Weber said. “… It is extremely important that you’ve registered and that you vote in every election because that really determines not only the present, but the future.”

While Stanford was not the largest campus competing in the Ballot Bowl, it had the biggest heart, commitment, and determination, Weber said. “You have innovation, you have creativity, you have students who are working, and now you have other folks chasing you.”

Weber is California’s first Black Secretary of State and detailed some of her family’s long history with civic engagement and voting, including when it was denied to them due to their race in the Jim Crow South.

“It is important that we defend our democracy because … with all the problems and challenges we face, the solution lies in our ability to grow and to talk to each other and make sure that issues are really before us clearly and that we use our power to make change,” she said.

Cameron Lange, ’24, accepted the award on behalf of the students who contributed their time to StanfordVotes, a non-partisan, university-wide, student-run organization that seeks to increase voter turnout among Stanford students. It is run through the Stanford in Government Civic Engagement Branch in collaboration with the Haas Center.

“Our work championing the youth vote is not always easy, but it is always rewarding,” said Lange, who is StanfordVotes’ vice-chair. “With every registration, we are empowering a person to engage in the democratic process, and we are hopefully establishing a lifelong commitment to voting.”

Between August and Election Day in 2022, StanfordVotes registered 2,511 students to vote from all 50 states.

Lange became involved in StanfordVotes as a freshman because “the voices of my generation are woefully under-represented in political discourse and decision-making,” she said. “Persistently low youth voter registration and turnout pose serious threats to our nation’s democratic health and vibrancy.”

However, the success at Stanford can be replicated on a larger scale, Lange added. “My biggest takeaway from leading StanfordVotes these past two years is that galvanizing students is a team effort that requires synergistic collaboration.”

This included collaborations with the Associated Students of Stanford University, Democracy Day Coordinating Committee, Frosh 101, Graduate Life Office, Haas Center, School of Medicine’s Civic Health Team, and All Vote No Play, among others.

After low Stanford student voter turnout rates in 2014 and 2016, StanfordVotes formed under the student organization Stanford in Government to enhance student civic engagement by non-partisan means, explained StanfordVotes student leader Lexi Kupor, ’25.

“By producing state-by-state student voter resources, running social media campaigns, and forming partnerships with faculty and athletics teams, StanfordVotes works to make voting an accessible, exciting, and equitable task for all students,” Kupor said.

Lange highlighted the “monumental undertaking” and teamwork among Stanford in Government board members to create the “50 State Voter Guide” – a 54-page document detailing the unique requirements of each state for registering to vote and casting a ballot from Stanford’s campus.

Another key collaboration was with the Registrar’s Office, which placed a hold on every student’s fall course enrollment until they acknowledged the university’s recommendation that they register to vote. This resulted in the lion’s share of the voter registrations, Lange said, and was the most impactful initiative.

Between 2014 and 2018, Stanford student voter turnout increased by more than 250%, Kupor said. She credits this increase to the civic engagement enrollment hold and the establishment of Democracy Day as an official academic holiday during which classes are canceled and civic engagement events are held. In the last year, Stanford hosted speakers like Sen. John Hickenlooper and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang. “These opportunities for engagement and learning are essential to boosting a spirit of civic engagement for students of all citizenship statuses, one that lasts long after graduation,” Kupor said.

“These efforts have built upon nearly five years of civic momentum at Stanford as the university has gone from having – I regret to say – years of very low student voter turnout to becoming a national leader in civic engagement,” said President Marc Tessier-Lavigne.

StanfordVotes also registered faculty and staff to vote and connected voters with election resources.

“StanfordVotes has worked hard to increase the culture of civic engagement on our campus in so many ways,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “At a university level, we are committed to supporting their efforts to encourage democratic participation and to reduce barriers to voting.”

In 2020, Stanford opened the Vote Center at Tresidder as a convenient polling location for the university community; the following year, the Faculty Senate voted to make Election Day an official academic holiday.

“These tactical changes have all been critical to engaging our student body in voting,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “At the same time, we are reemphasizing our efforts to instill the values of civic engagement and the values of active citizenship within a Stanford education broadly. Our nation and our world need engaged citizens who have the skills and the tools to engage in productive conversations, even about contentious issues.”

A major focus of these efforts is the new shared first-year experience, Civic, Liberal and Global Education (COLLEGE).

“COLLEGE provides them with a forum to think deeply about active citizenship and their role in the community and to learn how to engage in reasoned discussion across areas of disagreement,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “… These are values that will serve our students well in the long term, and will also serve our nation and the world well.”