96 percent of NU freshmen are registered to vote

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A new online voter registration tool, reframed for use at Northwestern University, contributed to a record-setting 96 percent voter registration rate for incoming freshmen this fall.

NU Votes, an initiative of the Center for Civic Engagement, launched a new online tool this year that makes it easier for students to register to vote. Students can register, review and change voter registration information and request absentee ballots all on the same site, NUVotes.org.

NU Votes is also sponsoring in-person voter registration drives this week at Norris University Center on the Evanston campus.

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NU Votes ensured that nearly every freshman on campus had the opportunity to register to vote their first day on campus. Registration stations at residence halls on move-in day and specially trained staff and student volunteers at the student ID office helped more than double the number of registered freshmen voters by the end of their first day on campus, setting a new voter registration record.

The school also will offer free shuttle rides for those wishing to participate in early voting and will help promote election events, like debate watch parties, leading up to Election Day.

The online registration tool developed in partnership with the non-profit Vote.org, is "as close as you can get to a one-stop shop for voter registration,” CCE Associate Director Rob Donahue said.

The tool allows anyone in the Northwestern community – students, faculty or staff – to check registration status, register to vote, update registration information and request an absentee ballot.

Vote.org provides a similar service for all eligible voters, but NUVotes.org adds an additional layer to simplify the process for college students.

“The one-size-fits-all national ballot is confusing for students who have a choice of where they want to register,” Donahue said.

Students have a right to register at either their college address or their home or permanent address.  NUVotes.org has a layer of embedded notes and instructions to alleviate any confusion that may result from a form designed for working adults.  The site also directs students to a host of in-person resources that NU Votes offers to help students complete additional tasks required by certain states.

Illinois is among 32 states that make it possible to register completely online, provided the registrant has a government-issued photo ID or Social Security Number. However, many states require additional steps that cannot be accomplished online, such as providing signatures, photocopies of IDs, notarized forms and mailing to county-specific addresses nationwide. Staff at the registration stations are equipped to educate and assist students with all of these requirements.

For students heading to an in-person registration station, Donahue recommends bringing a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license or passport, just in case it is required by their state.

Students can also register year-round at the CCE office, 1813 Hinman Ave., Evanston.

Voter registration is just the first step in a long process of civic responsibility. CCE will also lead efforts this fall to improve voter participation on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Northwestern will run periodic free shuttles to the City of Evanston Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave., Evanston, during early voting. Shuttle service is available to anyone with a WildCARD. Polls will also be established on campus during the Nov. 8 election. The schedules for shuttles and poll locations have not yet been announced.

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