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An on-campus early voting site and a vigorous get-out-the-vote effort pushed Duke University’s student voting above the national rate in 2018, according to a new report from the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement.

While the national college student voting rate doubled from 2014 to 2018, Duke posted a 114 percent increase for the same period.

At the Brodhead Center precinct, 3,113 (58.5 percent) of registered Duke students took advantage of early voting in 2018 compared to 478 (19.3 percent) in 2014. In 2014, Duke’s student voting rate had been slightly below the national average.

The uptick in voting was also notable because North Carolina had no top-of-ticket races on the ballot – such as senator, governor or president -- to drive voter turnout, said B.J. Rudell, associate director of the Center on Political Leadership, Innovation and Service (POLIS) at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

Duke’s 2018 voting rate ranked third among 23 schools in North Carolina included in the report.


“This is astounding given how few North Carolina residents enroll at Duke,” Rudell said. Approximately 88 percent of Duke students are from outside North Carolina.

“The reality is, it’s easier for students at many other North Carolina schools to vote, because a higher percentage hail from North Carolina and they had more opportunities to register in-state,” Rudell said. “Many Duke students have to take the extra step of requesting, receiving and mailing an absentee ballot.”

In 2018, 437 Duke students voted by absentee ballot vs. 163 in 2014.

Additionally, 18-21-year-olds posted the largest increase in voting for any group of Duke students: 1,712 in 2018 compared to 630 in 2014.

POLIS helped students organize the “Duke Votes” campaign during the spring and fall of 2018 to educate their peers about registering and voting, with a goal of “mobilizing students behind a common purpose,” Rudell said. POLIS staff and students held regular strategy sessions and engaged in numerous voter promotion activities.

“It is wonderful to see how this concerted, campus-wide effort paid off,” Rudell said. “Young people are the most untapped age demographic in American politics. When they wield their influence on U.S. politics, big things happen.”

This fall POLIS is once again working with students in advance of the 2020 primary and general elections. New initiatives include the creation of a Duke Votes Ambassadors program to help answer all students’ voting questions; personalized e-mail notifications for each state’s registration and absentee ballot deadlines; and a “20 in 20” campaign to promote students registering other students to vote.

The National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, or NSLVE, conducted by the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE) at Tufts University, is the only national study of college-student voting. It is based on the voting records of more than 10 million students at more than 1,000 colleges and universities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and it provides reports to participating colleges and universities.