GOTV voter ambassadors participate in a voter registration drive at the Watsco Center.

Voter Ambassador Program uses new tactics to register students

By Ashley A. Williams

Voter Ambassador Program uses new tactics to register students

By Ashley A. Williams
The number of participants in the volunteer program is the highest since its debut in 2018. And limitations caused by the pandemic have necessitated different ways to reach out to voters.

As Election Day nears and registration deadlines loom, the University of Miami Butler Center for Service and Leadership and the Get Out the Vote (GOTV) non-partisan initiative trained more than 50 undergraduate, law, and graduate students for the Voter Ambassador Program last week. 

The program helps to increase University student voter registration, voter education, and voter engagement on the Coral Gables Campus.

Andrew Wiemer, director of the Butler Center, said this year’s cohort is the largest since it began in 2018.

“In our first year we had about 30 voter ambassadors sign up for the midterm elections and I was so happy at the numbers,” said Wiemer, who worked alongside Albany Muria, chair of GOTV, this summer to modify their outreach efforts. “For 2020, we already have over 50 students from across each of the campuses. It is so exciting to see the interest continue to grow for this leadership role on campus.”

Headed by students with the goal to encourage peers to get involved in the political process, GOTV has had to use new tactics to adapt to the pandemic. Instead of in-person gatherings, volunteers are tasked with emailing and calling a list of students to make sure each has registered and updated pertinent voter information.

Colin Ruzella, a senior majoring in political science, rejoined the ambassador program for the second year in a row. For him, encouraging and informing others about local politics, local elections, and being a resource means a great deal.

“I wanted to become a volunteer because it's a great way to be involved with civic participation,” said Ruzella, who hails from Chicago. “It's a great way to have your peer’s attention about important issues.”

Charlotte Fox, a junior majoring in motion pictures, is an ambassador in the program, too. Once she moved off campus last year, she searched for ways to engage with the University community while doing meaningful work. 

“I think young people are starting to realize that politics are more important,” said Fox. “It affects pretty much every aspect of how we're going to live our lives, especially with coronavirus—every decision that the higher-ups are making, it's going to affect us for probably the next 10 to 20 years.”

In addition to reaching out to students one-on-one via email and by telephone, Ruzella, Fox, and the other voter ambassadors will also share information by hosting virtual sessions and serving as a voter social media influencer.

“I think to have someone who they can ask specific questions, who is their age, makes the process a lot less embarrassing,” Fox said of engaging with fellow students on campus. “It can be kind of intimidating. We want them to know that it’s not just a ‘grown up thing.’ It's nice to let them know that I'm here to walk them through it.”

For instance, Ruzella said, he has informed many students about the mail-in ballot process.

“Some important dates to remember are Nov. 3, which is the general election and the deadline to register is Oct. 5th. For mail-in voting one should request their ballot at least 10 days before an election. But it is recommended that voters request their ballot at least 15 days in advance to ensure it reaches its destination on time. In the state of Florida, any registered voter can choose to vote by mail,” said Ruzella.

Florida also offers early or absentee in-person voting for registered voters, beginning Oct. 24.

The Butler Center has been recognized and rewarded for their commitment and outstanding efforts to registering students to vote over the years. Most recently, they were awarded the Students Learn Students Vote (SLSV) Coalition Fall Mobilization Funding. This financial award will be used to support the continued non-partisan student voter engagement efforts related to National Voter Registration DayNational Voter Education Week, and Vote Early Day.

Dates to remember:

  • Oct. 5: Deadline to register to vote in Florida
  • Oct. 24: Deadline to request a mail-in ballot in Florida
  • Oct. 24–Oct. 31: Early voting in Florida
  • Nov. 3: Election Day