St. Olaf College | News

‘Good Morning America’ features St. Olaf’s leading work in getting students to vote

St. Olaf students provide information about voting at the annual Co-Curricular Fair.
St. Olaf students provide information about voting at the annual Co-Curricular Fair.

The ABC News morning program “Good Morning America” visited campus to highlight how St. Olaf College got nearly 90 percent of students to vote in the 2020 election — and how the college could serve as a model for youth voter turnout in next year’s election.

A whopping 87.6% of eligible students cast their ballot in the last presidential election, according to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE). That’s a rate more than 21% higher than the national average, and it led St. Olaf to win a national award for the highest voting rate among all colleges and universities participating in the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge.

“As the one-year countdown to the 2024 general election begins, candidates are looking to the youth vote as a means to grow support. Building off of 2020 voter turnout, one college campus has become a bastion for a high standard of voter registration,” the “Good Morning America” story begins as a reporter shows the St. Olaf campus.

Elijah Sonntag ’25 served as one of the college’s election ambassadors in 2022, a role focused on educating students about voter accessibility and helping them make a plan to get to the polls. He tells “Good Morning America” that the role is largely about “being able to make that personal connection, and say, ‘Hey, your voice matters.'”

Darartu Musse ’27 adds that personal engagement with candidates can help inspire the youth vote and inform students. “Getting candidates or getting representatives to be more engaged with any type of community, including college campuses [and] immigrant communities is one way to increase voter turnout and is a solution for the information gap,” she tells the news program.

Academic Civic Engagement Program Director Alyssa Melby helps lead a campus Election Engagement Group formed in 2019, and she says St. Olaf has a long history of encouraging civic participation. Leading up to the 2020 election, Campus Election Engagement Project (CEEP) fellows Linnea Cheek ’21 and Hannah Liu ’21 built a toolkit for a team of 70 election ambassadors, equipping them with the plans and skills they needed to talk to students about voting. 

The ambassadors — representing athletics, residence life, student organizations, and academic and civic education courses — connected with close to one-third of St. Olaf’s student population. Their mission: answering questions, getting students excited about voting, and helping them make a plan for casting their ballots. 

Melby says the plans developed in 2020 for peer-to-peer engagement served as a roadmap in 2022 — and will help St. Olaf build on its already high student election participation for years to come.

“We are ensuring that folks understand what their civic rights are and the opportunities to exercise them,” Melby said.