University of Nebraska-Lincoln junior Madison Hurst’s first involvement with the Husker Vote Coalition, a nonpartisan initiative that aims to increase civic engagement at UNL and in the greater Lincoln community, came in September 2021.
At that time, the Husker Vote Coalition was a faculty-run endeavor, and Hurst’s responsibility was to serve as a link between the coalition and the UNL Residence Hall Association.
“Last September, it was just me and one other person,” Hurst said. “We just went through a basic training of registering voters.”
When Hurst reported the work she was doing to other members of the Residence Hall Association, UNL sophomore Kendall Bartling immediately expressed interest. Hurst, Bartling and the group’s third and final member at the time, Ivan Molina Jr., became the trio that helped the group move from faculty-run to student-run ahead of the group’s official relaunch in January 2022.
According to Bartling, the growth has been immense.
In addition to the Husker Vote Coalition’s board of Bartling, Hurst, Molina Jr. and second-year UNL student Maggie Nielsen, the group is made up of six Student Vote Ambassadors, a faculty vote ambassador and a staff adviser.
According to Nielsen, student ambassadors coordinate voting events and share voting resources across campus.
Additionally, students interested in joining the coalition can also participate in the Election Observer Committee, which gathers information and collects data about how elections are run in Nebraska, and the Policy Fellow Committee, which meets with the group’s partner organizations to report on current events, in addition to writing blogs to help keep students updated about key events.
Even though it’s now run by students, the Husker Vote Coalition also remains open to faculty and staff who may be deputy registrars and wish to help in registration efforts, said Nielsen, who joined as Husker Vote Coalition’s voter registration chair after the group was officially re-founded.
At the heart of the Husker Vote Coalition’s mission is getting “the whole Husker community civically engaged,” Hurst said. The coalition accomplishes this by getting people registered to vote or informing them about the stakes of upcoming elections.
Another main objective is ensuring that all potential obstacles to getting a voters’ ballot are removed.
“It’s not just registering to vote, it’s making sure people know what they need to vote, how they’re going to vote, where they’re going to vote,” Bartling said.
The coalition began having events in February, and Bartling said that the initial response to the group’s efforts was overwhelmingly positive. After holding a few voter registration events last semester, the group kicked off the fall semester by registering over 75 voters in less than three days at the Big Red Welcome event held last month, according to Bartling.
College students and young people in general have a huge impact on American democracy, according to Nielsen. She wants to better inform the UNL community of the civic opportunities afforded to them by attending the university.
“Who we vote for determines who is in charge of not only the country, but also things that are more closer to home,” Nielsen said. “The Board of Regents is an election. That’s the people who are in charge of what we do here at the University of Nebraska.”
Nielsen and Hurst also noted that UNL students who live in campus housing can begin expressing their civic voice the moment they move in. UNL students have the capability to use their on-campus housing address to register to vote, something the group says is a great way to begin actively participating in the Lincoln community.
Bartling, Nielsen and Hurst stressed the importance of all students getting civically involved from the moment they step on campus, but Bartling made a special distinction for out-of-state students who may arrive on campus not thinking their voice matters in here. Out-of-state students should have a significant interest to vote in Lincoln, according to Bartling.
“Especially for out-of-state students who are here in Lincoln, the one-sentence thing is: You will live with the impacts of this next election for nine months out of every year that you’re here at UNL,” he said.
As for the remainder of 2022, the group is hoping to continue its growth and impact on campus. Nielsen’s main priority is focusing on the November midterms, making sure that UNL students are registered and able to vote come Election Day. She and other board members are also looking to continue partnering with on-campus groups in order to spread the word about the coalition.
Bartling said that the group is working with community organizations such as Civic Nebraska on a comprehensive voting turnout plan that targets UNL students specifically to get out to the polls.
In addition, the coalition is working with the Lancaster County Election Commission to produce an educational video about the voting process — the first of its kind in several years in the state of Nebraska, according to Bartling.
Hurst is heading the coalition’s newly formed Election Response Task Force, which is still being fully fleshed out but will fundamentally guide how the group responds in the aftermath of a contentious election. She also is continuing her work as an ambassador of the coalition with the Residence Hall Association.
Above all, the trio is extremely proud of the work they’ve done in promoting democracy on UNL’s campus. Being able to participate in the voting process and ultimately having a say in who takes charge either locally or nationally is crucially important to them. To Bartling, that is what the Husker Vote Coalition is all about.
“That’s how I work through Husker Vote, to make sure folks have those opportunities to express themselves,” he said. “And that we and the university are doing as much as we can to protect those institutions and to make sure people have the education they need to engage with them meaningfully.”