Voter Guide for Black and African American Students

Black and African American students represent a large segment of the voting population. Dig into voting information to further increase Black voter participation.
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  • Students can vote in person and by mail in upcoming elections.
  • Voter restriction laws disproportionately impact Black and African American voters.
  • Black women represent one of the largest and most active segments of voters.
  • Student involvement in election processes can increase voter turnout and participation.

Voting by the Black and African American community gives political voice to a historically excluded group that still remains underrepresented across elected offices.

In the 2020 presidential election, 62.6% of Black voters cast their ballot. However, this shows that a significant number of Black people did not take part in electing the president.

With the recent increase in voter laws threatening political engagement, it is more important than ever that Black and African American students understand the importance of voter engagement.

Voting Statistics for Black and African American Students

"We see voting rights as a foundational source of power to help preserve our humanity."

— Dionna La'Fay, Senior Organizing Manager, Black Voters Matter

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The Most Important Political Issues for Black and African American Students

Laws restricting voters' ability to cast their ballots have increased in many states around the country.

In 2021, 33 laws were passed that make it harder for people to vote. Removing individuals from eligible voter lists, increasing difficulty with early and mail-in voting options, and increasing voter ID requirements impacts voting options for thousands of people.

After record turnouts in the 2020 election, people of color are disproportionately impacted by these restrictions and may likely see a decrease in voter participation.

Issues regarding race hold significance for Black and African American voters.

According to a recent study, 70% of eligible Black voters named topics involving racism as the most important in influencing their vote in 2020.

Sixty-nine percent specified police treatment of Black Americans as an influential issue when selecting a presidential candidate. Additionally, 94% of Black Americans believe that the country needs to continue making changes for Black people to have equal rights.

Some of the most important voting issues to Black and African American women — immigration, gun laws, healthcare, employment, and racial discrimination — impact students of all genders.

Eighty-five percent of Black women voters support pathways to legal status for undocumented immigrants. A majority of Black women voters also consider employment and racial and gender discrimination issues of national importance. These top priority issues influence voting trends among Black women.

"This generation of students are managing so much more than their parents had to! Student loan debt, constant war, stagnant wages, and a strained housing market has left many of them unsure about their ability to attain the American Dream. Security is an illusion that was destroyed by the pandemic and created a sense of hopelessness for many."

— Dionna La'Fay, Senior Organizing Manager, Black Voters Matter

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How Students Can Vote in Local, State, and Federal Elections

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    In Person

    Voting in person remains the most common way to cast a ballot in local, state, and federal elections. Permanent or temporary state residency can be established where you attend school. Register through the mail, at select government locations, or online in certain states.

    State residents can vote in person on the day of an election. In some locations, they can cast their ballot prior to election day. Voting in college may require advanced planning and guidance to determine the option best for you.

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    By Mail

    Voting by mail means you can vote in your home state no matter where you go to school. Mail-in ballots also allow you to vote if you plan to be away from your designated polling place on Election Day.

    Maintain your home state residency and vote in local and state elections that represent your community. Absentee ballots can be mailed to election offices or dropped off in person at specified absentee election offices.

    Voting by mail requires your ballot to be postmarked no later than Election Day. However, many officials suggest mailing your ballot much earlier.

5 Ways Students Can Get Involved in the Midterm Elections

1. Help other students register to vote

Once you ensure your own voter registration, help other students to register. Guide students in understanding which state they can register in and how to complete their voter registration forms.

Persistent and restrictive voting laws can make it difficult for students to register and cast their ballots. Plan ahead to ensure you and your peers have your legislative voices heard.

Guidelines for college voters can help you navigate varying registration requirements in each state. You can be better prepared to vote once midterm elections arrive.

2. Help voters get to the polls

If your campus hosts voting centers, it can feel easy to cast your ballot on Election Day. However, many campuses require students to find polling places within the local community. Support your fellow students who plan to cast their ballots by helping them get to the polls.

Set up a carpooling system, provide students with directions to local polling stations, or connect students with community transportation resources. Find the ways your school is willing to support student access to polling sites. And then spread the word.

3. Discuss voting issues

Bring election topics to student body meetings and other spaces of discussion. Talk about topics that feel important to you and the school community. Communicating with other students about voting issues can open the door to a more holistic understanding of the topics.

Talking about voting issues helps students stay informed on important topics and their impact. Some voting issues that can be beneficial to discuss with students include education, healthcare, LGBTQ+ rights, and immigration.

4. Support campus voting efforts

A Voter Friendly Campus designation is awarded to schools with concrete plans to support student voting in upcoming elections.

Student engagement is the focus of this designation and requires that on-campus personnel create strategies that bring more students to the polls. Join student leaders to increase voter registration, voter education, and ballot access.

The ALL IN challenge aims to build civic and democratic engagement among college students. Improving activities and programs that focus on voting rights helps campuses reduce voting gaps based on age and race.

Institutions that join the ALL IN program create goals to improve voter participation among students. The public acknowledgment of these goals helps keep schools accountable.

5. Contact political leaders

Engagement can include protests, student-led marches, and communications with elected officials. Consider which issues are most important to you and the students at your school.

Reach out to political leaders to discuss these issues and their plans to engage with them. Ask questions about how you and your peers can remain involved in the political process. Talk with leaders about long-term initiatives to engage college voters.

"We see voting rights as a foundational source of power to help preserve our humanity. It's time to stand in solidarity against the powers that be. We value People over Politics, and we'll do whatever is necessary to ensure our communities are protected, educated, and adequately funded."

— Dionna La'Fay, Senior Organizing Manager, Black Voters Matter

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Resources for Black and African American Student Voters

The Democracy & Voting sector of the NAACP works to protect the voting rights of Black people and African Americans nationwide. The NAACP engages voters in all elections and leads legal battles to ensure the right to vote remains accessible.

Created by Rise, this intensive program empowers college students to lead campus and community voting initiatives. Black the Vote trains students to engage others in voting participation, become election monitors and poll workers, and organize peers in political engagement.

The goal of Black Voters Matter is to improve Black community power through voting efforts. The organization leads voter registration drives, advocates for policy changes, and develops network training in support of Black voters nationwide.

Empowered by a tradition of student political participation at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), this initiative seeks to understand barriers to voting that students face. Led by Campus Vote Project, the HBCU Legacy Initiative addresses barriers to student voting through research and resource development.

This voting toolkit, created in collaboration with VoteAmerica, helps students with voter registration and provides information for upcoming elections. The voting guide further explains the importance of voting and provides tools to increase voter turnout.

With Advice From:

Portrait of Dionna La'Fay

Dionna La'Fay

Senior Organizing Manager, Black Voters Matter

Dionna La'Fay (she/her) is an HBCU graduate and has worked for several political campaigns and nonprofit organizations over the past eight years. She is currently serving as the senior organizing manager in Texas with Black Voters Matter, a nonprofit organization that is currently active in over 12 states across the country. We work to leverage power through leadership development and community organizing.

Feature Image: FatCamera / E+ / Getty Images