Hey college students; let’s talk about voting.
Our age group is notoriously thought of as “apathetic, lazy and uninvolved” when it comes to politics. However, in our current political climate, with refocused attention on the Black Lives Matter movement and other racial injustices brought to light amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, many college students are reevaluating their voting habits.
Carolyn Shachtel, Vanderbilt Class of 2022, was feeling the lack of voter participation and energy among her peers. She personally was unable to vote last year because she did not have her passport with her, which is a requirement when registering to vote in Nashville.
She started thinking about creating a voting information platform for voter registration filled with information about candidates that students can actually understand and utilize to inform and encourage their participation in politics. Shachtel was inspired by the witty, insightful voice of theSkimm, a daily newsletter that shares the most recent news in a digestible, concise format.
With the support of Charlotte Golden and Nicole Radke, both Vanderbilt Class of 2022, along with Kalini Patel, Vanderbilt Class of 2023, VoteUp Vanderbilt, an Instagram resource for witty, easy-to-read, non-partisan local and national election information was created.
The Fit Magazine sat down with the four women to learn more about the Vote Up initiative.
The Vote Up Vandy account is filled with eye-catching, easy to digest graphics focusing on registering to vote in Tennessee, as well as learning more about the candidates on the ballot and the importance of local, primary elections.
“Everyone I know today is nonstop on their phones. Being on instagram and just having a cute graphic show up is to me the most appealing part. I think, ‘Oh, I would look at that.’ I would never look up all the candidates, because I wouldn’t feel it’s worth my time, I’ll just vote for who everyone else votes for, versus making an informed decision at such a young age and seeing the statistics about how much of a difference it can make,” Patel said.
Shachtel has spent hours on the phone with the Tennessee election commission to better understand voter registration as well as the weight of local elections. Instagram graphics full of valuable voting information are then posted on the account to be shared with a wider audience.
“When you get down to a district level or even a state level, there is so much more opportunity for your voice to be heard, especially when so many people aren’t voting; and so getting excited about local candidates and getting them elected into office makes such a huge difference in terms of the issues you care about,” Shachtel said. “These candidates are so much easier to reach than you would think in terms of voicing your opinions to them and getting your voice heard in government. Voting locally is such a huge thing that is taken for granted and not publicized enough.”
“When I registered to vote in Tennessee, I had a bunch of issues with registering. It didn’t go through the first time, when I registered in February and then I registered again in quarantine and when I finally checked, it was like ‘Great you’re registered, you can vote in the Aug. 6 election,’ and I was like ‘What there is an election Aug. 6?”’ Golden said. “I care about politics and getting involved and I can’t even find this, so for people that don’t really care, it’s even harder for them to find it. There are so many seats up for grabs and really important elections that you would never know if you didn’t take the time to search it online.”
As of July 28, the Vote Up Vandy account has 1377 followers, with a majority consisting of students in the Vanderbilt Class of 2025 and students from other local Tenneeseee universities, said Golden. She said they receive a lot of Instagram direct messages from incoming freshmen with questions about how to change their voter registrations from their home state to Tennessee.
The Vote up Movement is trying to help students understand the weight that their vote has in different states and changing your voter registration from your home state may give your vote more power in a swing state.
Golden is from New York, but personally feels as though she can make a bigger difference with her vote in Tennessee.
“Getting involved in the place where you go to school and feeling like your voice is being heard and all that. It’s also about starting a good trend,” Radke said. “It’s starting healthy habits of being a citizen in America and getting involved in politics and voting and I think a good place to start is getting involved now and continuing that. My dream for this is that it will make people invested and actually continue it throughout their life.”
Vote Up accounts have since been started at Washington University in St. Louis @voteupwashu and Tulane University @voteuptulane. The Vote Up movement is looking to expand to multiple campuses to reach college students everywhere and help them understand the importance of their vote in their college state.
Many college students do not realize the impact of their vote on community issues. The local government makes a majority of important decisions but does not receive as much media attention as larger ones, Radke said. She believes it is vital students understand the weight of their vote in local elections and to utilize their privilege of voting.
“I feel pretty lucky that it is pretty easy for me to vote. I’m not really restricted anyway in voting and I think something that we are working on with this platform is making people more aware of different aspects of voter suppression in Tennessee specifically,” Radke said. “If you are in a position where you can vote and to just be like, ‘Oh I don’t really care’ is just super problematic and just wrong.”
The Vote Up movement aims to encourage student participation in politics while in college and beyond.
“In this day and age, everyone is realizing everything you do can make a difference with all the movements and things going on,” Patel said. “I think it’s important to stress that by being able to vote, you have a chance to make tangible change; and by doing that, you have a chance to change the future, as cheesy as it is, that’s how it works. Every small thing has to do with local elections or bigger elections.”