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Baltimore County universities ramp up voter registration efforts

Baltimore County’s two public, four-year colleges have higher-than-average voter participation, according to a report from the National Study of Learning, Voting and Environment (NSLVE).

At the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, 49.2% of eligible students cast a ballot in the 2018 midterm election; at Towson University, that number was 42.2%. The average, according to the study, was 39.1% participation. NSLVE is a free and voluntary resource for more than 1,000 college campuses that examines student and institution-level data on student voting.

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At both institutions, the voting rates were sharp increases from the 2014 midterm. At Towson University, 21.5% more students voted in 2018 and at UMBC, the number of voting students more than doubled with a 109% increase.

“UMBC is well above average,” said David Hoffman, the director of UMBC’s Center for Democracy and Civic Life. “I think our voter registration efforts are good, but I think we’ve done really well at getting people into conversation with each other … in a context where they can make a difference.”

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He said the university likely would be sending out an all-campus email with information on how to register to vote on Tuesday, which is National Voter Registration Day.

At Towson University, students, faculty and staff will have registration stations set up around campus all day, according to a news release.

Towson University and UMBC officials both said that voting and voter registration are not the be-all, end-all of civic engagement, but a good place to start. Both institutions have said they want to see their students engaged in other ways in their local communities.

Christopher Jensen, Towson’s director of civic engagement and social responsibility, said civic engagement is “at the core of who we are.”

And UMBC’s Hoffman said student voters could effect real change in their communities if they organized and mobilized. If students start to vote, the local politicians will pay attention to student issues, he said.

“I think people talk about college as if it’s a precursor to real life,” Hoffman said. “But college is life, and your participation and community matters as much when you’re a student as it will later.”

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