Essential Steps to Running a Student Voter Registration Drive

May 1, 2023
black text on a purple background reads: Ran by students (like you!)

Students can run voter registration drives to impact change.

Natalia Farias Maldonado has long dark colored hair and is smiling at the camera
Natalia Farias Maldonado

Voter registration drives (VRDs) are a great way to register many people to vote at once. In addition, VRDs are useful for targeting specific demographics. In this post, I'll explain how to set up a student-run student-targeted voter registration drive. Additionally, I will include some promotional tactics. Organizing a VRD can seem overwhelming, but in actuality, it is quite obtainable when broken into smaller steps. 

College students are a common group targeted during voter registration drives because of their low voting rates. In the 2020 federal election, only 51.4% of people aged 18-24 voted, compared to 76% of people 65-74 who voted. With that said, in the 2020 election Sonoma State students voted at record-breaking numbers, with 88.3% of registered voters voting. Although this is above the national average, there is still improvement to be made. 

Where Do I Start? - Developing a Plan of Action

As for where to begin, the first step is to develop a plan regarding who you want to target, how many people you plan to register, and how you want to register them (paper voter registration cards or online at California Online Voter Registration). Voter registration cards (VRCs) can only be obtained from county election officials or the Secretary of State's office and may not be printed elsewhere. If you plan on registering over 50 individuals, you must contact the Secretary of State's office and fill out a Statement of Distribution Form and distribution plan. The Secretary of State can be contacted via mail or fax at:

California Secretary of State

Elections Division

1500 11th Street, 5th Floor

Sacramento, CA 95814

Fax: (916) 653-3214

The distribution plan should describe how the drive will be organized, what groups will be targeted, what distribution methods will be used, and an acknowledgment that organizers know and will follow the laws and rules relating to voter registration. Alongside those requirements, the state of California recommends keeping these two questions in mind when developing your plan. 

  • How many people in the area where you want to conduct your voter registration drive are already registered to vote?

  • How many of those who are not registered to vote will be 18 by the time of the next election, are U.S. citizens, and are residents of California?

Once you have filled out and sent your Statement of Distribution and distribution plan, you can focus on training your volunteers and promoting your event. It is critical that everyone working or volunteering understands the procedures and laws relating to voter registration. 

Training Your Staff - Ensuring Everyone Understands Voting Laws

The eligibility requirements for registering to vote in California are to be a United States citizen and a resident of California, 18 years old or older on Election Day, not currently serving a state or federal prison term for the conviction of a felony, and not currently found mentally incompetent to vote by a court. Volunteers must understand all the stipulations surrounding legal restrictions and requirements, which can be found at Guide to Voter Registration Drives

Your vote has power!

Promoting your event - Spread the word! (cost effectively) 

Lastly, the key to a successful VRD is promoting it so your target audience is aware of your event. Using free lines of communication is essential for VRDs or events with limited funding. Social media is one free tool that can be utilized for promotional purposes. Take advantage of existing campus accounts with high followings and high engagement and post promotional content there to maximize your audience. Printing flyers and posting them on bulletin boards across campus is also a great way to spread the word about upcoming events. Place these flyers around common congregation areas like the Recreation Center, housing, dining areas, and buildings with high foot traffic. Printing is relatively inexpensive, especially when utilizing resources such as the Library. Finally, take advantage of any other campus resources such as digital billboards like LoboVision

For more information regarding voting laws and regulations or any other information concerning running your own VRD check out resources like Planning a Voter Registration Drive and Guide to Organizing a Voter Registration Drive | Students Demand Action. Anything is obtainable when broken down into bite-sized pieces, so don’t worry; you got this! Best of luck with your VRD, and thank you for your active participation in democracy!