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Campus & Community

Five Ways to Become Civically Engaged This Election Season (And Beyond)

College of Education Professor Offers Tips for Students, UMD Community

By Karen Shih ’09

hands holding ballots

From making a voting plan to working the polls or volunteering in the local community, students can flex their civic engagement muscles in many different ways this election season, said Lena Morreale Scott, director of UMD’s Civic Education and Engagement Initiative.

Illustration by iStock

Midterm elections are notorious for sluggish turnout, but with climate change, voter access, reproductive rights—as well as the congressional balance of power—reflected on ballots across the nation on Nov. 8, it’s more important than ever not to sit on the sidelines.

College-age students, many of whom can vote for the first time in 2022, may not yet know how to flex their civic muscles, said Lena Morreale Scott, director of the Civic Education and Engagement Initiative at the College of Education.

“Civic engagement is a lifelong process,” Scott said. “At a university where we are dedicated to solving the grand challenges of our time, being civically engaged is one way to do that. That’s how we can have a voice and a vote in who leads us and how responsive they are to our needs and priorities.”

Scott suggests ways for students, as well as other UMD community members, to get involved this election season and beyond.

  1. Plan how to cast your ballot. Decide where you want to vote—at your College Park or home address—and make sure you’re registered. Then, figure out if you want to vote in person on Election Day, or if you want to vote early or request a mail-in ballot. “Make it fun!” Scott said. “Make a pact to go with friends or family, post it to social media, host a watch party for the results.”
  2. Get informed. “News and current events can feel overwhelming,” said Scott. “But whether you’re interested in immigration or education or environmental justice, just pick one or two things and find out which candidates support those things, and which don’t.” The UMDemocracy series on campus offers an easy way for students to brush up on issues, with lectures throughout October.
  3. Work the polls. Support the democratic process by serving as an election judge, working at a voting site to ensure that voting is fair and accessible. Registered voters ages 16 and up are eligible and get paid for their time. State of Maryland employees can even use administrative leave to work at a polling site on Election Day.
  4. Volunteer for a campaign. “Some members of our community aren't eligible to vote, but they can and should still engage in non-voting election activities. The election results impact them just as much,” Scott said. Contact a candidate who you support to ask if they need a pair of extra hands to distribute fliers or call community members.
  5. Serve the local community. “Again, pick one or two issues you really care about. Then look around for opportunities to volunteer. Find an organization that really aligns with your spirit and mission,” she said. For UMD students, she recommends using the UMD Services 24/7 to find a wide range of nonprofits in Prince George's County, and choose a one-day project or an ongoing opportunity to serve.
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College of Education

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