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Brown Votes launches challenge aimed at 100 percent voter registration, turnout in 2020 election

Voting challenge encourages civic engagement, community accountability among student groups at Brown

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 23, 2020

When men’s basketball captain Tamenang Choh ’21 and his teammates returned to campus this year, they knew they wanted to take action beyond the court during this unusual fall semester.

The team had already set goals to confront racial injustice and support the Black Lives Matter movement over the summer. But when they returned to campus, they were approached by Madison Mandell ’22 and Kimberly Collins ’22 with another proposal: Register the entire team to vote.

“It was a no brainer to push and advocate for 100 percent of (our team) to register,” Choh said.

The men’s basketball team is not the only student organization taking a shot at this goal semester. In an effort to achieve 100 percent voter registration and turnout for eligible Brown students, Brown Votes launched the Brown Votes Challenge on National Voter Registration Day Sept. 22. Brown Votes, a student-led initiative supported by the Swearer Center, will award prizes to student groups that fulfill the challenge’s goal of 100 percent voter registration and turnout among their eligible members. 

The Brown Votes Challenge intends to promote civic engagement and accountability among college-aged voters — a demographic with historically low voter turnout. 

Brown Votes was founded to closely mirror the initiatives of the Ivy League Voting Challenge, a nonpartisan, student-led voting initiative to increase civic engagement before the 2020 election.

“We are obviously really thrilled that a lot of people are registered (to vote), but historically, the problem has been turnout rather than registration,” said Brown Votes co-founder Madison Mandell ’22. “So we’re hoping the challenge fosters a culture of accountability.” 


In 2016, nearly 84 percent of eligible Brown students registered to vote, but just over 70 percent of those registered students turned out to vote. 

Overall, just 59 percent of eligible Brown students (registered or not) turned out to vote — 9 percent higher than the average for all higher education institutions and a 13 percent increase from voter turnout among Brown students in 2012. But Brown students still voted at a lower rate than the national average of 61.4 percent of eligible voters.

But for the 2018 midterm elections, student voter turnout at Brown tripled compared to 2014, increasing from 14.1 percent to 45.1 percent.

Kimberly Collins ’22, another co-founder of Brown Votes, hopes the challenge this year will also build a sense of community within social, academic and extracurricular groups at the University. 

“The challenge’s main aim is to work within the existing social structures at Brown to make sure that as many students at Brown are not only registered to vote, but turn out to vote,” Collins said. “This challenge really is about building community by making sure that people you’re in clubs with … are registered to vote and that everyone actually does end up going to vote, whether that’s in person or (by) submitting an absentee ballot.” 

The group kicked off the challenge Sept. 22 through announcements on their own social media pages. Brown Votes was also featured on Brown’s official Instagram account. 

“We got tons of really positive feedback from that,” Mandell said. “We actually linked a Google Form asking people if they wanted to get involved or if they had any questions. We got a lot of responses on that, so we’re going to get back to people shortly.”

The Brown Votes Challenge will be ongoing until Election Day on Nov. 3. Mandell explained that Brown Votes will collect and release official data on registration and turnout after Election Day — since some students will vote by mail while others will vote in person. 

Organizations that have achieved 100 percent voter registration will be highlighted on the Brown Votes social media, Collins explained. Currently, several student groups — including women’s basketball, men’s hockey, baseball, wrestling and volleyball, in addition to men’s basketball — have “signed up and committed to participating in the challenge.” Once data is collected after Nov. 3, student groups with 100 percent voter turnout will also receive a prize from the Swearer Center. 

Men’s basketball coach Mike Martin said his student-athletes decided that fulfilling 100 percent voter registration was “something they wanted to commit to as a team” because they felt it was important to “take advantage of one of our most important rights as citizens.” 

The men’s basketball program at the University is one of many Division I programs to commit to 100 percent voter registration this year. Across the country, 83 percent of NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball programs have pledged to register 100 percent of their eligible student athletes and to support voter turnout and education. 

“It’s been a really great thing to see as a coach, being one of 355 Division I programs, I’m happy that we’re one that’s fully registered,” Martin said. “Now we have to go out and (vote) between now and November.”

As an organization, Brown Votes aims to increase civic engagement throughout the entire Brown community, but hopes that this challenge in particular will increase voter turnout for younger age demographics. 

“This is a voting bloc that has historically not turned out. This is an opportunity to have our voices be heard and to make change,” Mandell said. 

Brown Votes also encourages students to educate themselves about the importance of voting and how the outcome of an election can impact communities. “One thing that we always want to encourage is that people should understand voting through the framework in which it affects their local communities,” Collins said. She added that approximately 20 to 30 percent of Brown students are registered to vote in Rhode Island, “so it’s really important that they’re educating themselves about the community and how their vote can have an impact on their area.” The Brown Votes Challenge can be accessed on the Brown Votes website, where organizations can sign up to participate via Google Form.

— With additional reporting by Spencer Schultz

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