St. Olaf College | News

St. Olaf earns national award for top student voting rate

Linnea Cheek (second from left) and Hannah Liu (second from right) talk with students across a table in front of the windows and limestone wall of Buntrock Commons.
Linnea Cheek ’21 (second from left) and Hannah Liu ’21 (second from right) educate students on voter registration and other election topics.

A national student voting initiative has recognized St. Olaf College for having one of the top student voting rates of any college campus in the country. 

Nearly 88 percent of eligible St. Olaf students turned out to vote in the 2020 presidential election, giving the college the highest voting rate of any of the more than 400 institutions that participated in the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, a nonpartisan effort to boost students’ civic and political engagement. Nationwide, the average student voting rate at all colleges and universities was 66 percent, according to the National Survey of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) from the Institute of Democracy in Higher Education at Tufts University.

This has been years in the making, and also is indicative of how we show up as a community and how seriously we take civic engagement here in Minnesota.Alyssa Herzog Melby, Program Director for Academic Civic Engagement

St. Olaf’s voting rate jumped by nearly 6 percent compared to the 2016 presidential election — even as students contended with all the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Alyssa Herzog Melby, program director for academic civic engagement, says that’s a credit to the college’s long history of encouraging civic and participation — and the creativity of the students, faculty, and staff amid last year’s challenges. 

“This has been years in the making, and also is indicative of how we show up as a community and how seriously we take civic engagement here in Minnesota,” she says.

With traditional in-person voter registration drives largely off the table, the push to connect with students shifted to new formats. 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. 

Herzog Melby says the plans developed in 2020 for peer-to-peer engagement will help St. Olaf build on its already high student election participation for years to come. 

“This is going to be utilized year after year,” she says.

St. Olaf received multiple awards in this year’s ALL IN Challenge, which attracted participation from more than 426 higher education institutions that serve a collective 4.3 million students. 

In addition to earning the Champion Campus award for the highest overall voting rate, St. Olaf was recognized as the top four-year, private college for voting rates and in an athletics voting challenge for having the highest voter registration and highest voter turnout for any campus in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC.) The college also earned ALL IN’s Platinum Seal, awarded to campuses with voter participation rates of between 80-90 percent.