For Sue Leister, director of Alverno’s internship program, serving as a chief election inspector is a calling. Working at the polls over several elections, she saw the need for younger poll workers. In 2008, when then-President Mary Meehan declared Presidential Election Day a campus holiday, Leister saw an opportunity to get students involved. As a result, the college held 10 poll worker training sessions that year. More than 120 people attended and served at the polls.
“To me, voting is your main responsibility as a citizen, to participate in the life of the community, in the life of your city and your state, in your country, and to make your voice heard,” Leister says.
Since the initial trainings, between 200 and 300 additional students have prepared to work the polls, and the numbers continue to grow. Trainings are offered on campus, and students learn everything from what forms of ID are acceptable to the nuances of maintaining a nonpartisan stance while assisting voters.
“It’s not about choosing one side or the other,” says Elizabeth Coppola ’12. “You can help someone who’s struggling to vote that day. Whether it’s the elderly having a hard time getting to the polls or someone who’s never voted and doesn’t understand the process, there’s always a way to get involved.”
For Coppola, the experience ignited a desire to get more involved. A year after graduating from Alverno, she ran for Wisconsin State Assembly. “If you don’t have those experiences, you don’t know what’s possible. When I look back at it now, the most surprising thing is how it impacted the rest of my choices moving forward, whether running for office or even just knowing how important my vote is.”
Getting students to the polls has long been a campus priority, and the results have been impressive. In 2020, 71.2% of students who were voting-eligible were registered to vote and of those, 82.7% voted on Election Day. Formal efforts to register students to vote include campus visits by the League of Women Voters, while grassroots efforts by students have also been effective.
Celestina Hertz, class of 2024, is behind some of the recent grassroots efforts. She recently handed out donuts with a gentle reminder to “donut” forget to vote. Most students she talked with were already registered to vote, but for those who weren’t, she provided a QR code that took them to My Vote Wisconsin’s website.
“On the local and state level, so many things could change if they just had more information. I think a lot of people don’t think about those things,” Hertz says. “I have a lot of faith and hope and love for my generation, and they have amazing points of view. I want to help us achieve our ideal world.”
For students who aren’t American citizens, elections are an opportunity to see the democratic process in action. Rachel Haos, assistant dean of Student Development and Success, has been taking international students to the polls to observe since 2016. “We have had students who come from countries where women do not have the right to vote in national elections or where democratic elections do not take place,” Haos says. “I am a first-generation American whose father came to the U.S. through forced migration. Voting and being an effective citizen is such an important part of my life, and it’s something we integrate as part of the curriculum for our students, so I thought it would be a great opportunity for international students to see what the process looks like here.”
All of these efforts reflect the College’s commitment to getting students, faculty and staff more involved in effective citizenship – one of Alverno’s 8 Abilities. For Leister, who organized the poll worker training as a side project, her labor of love has been rewarding.
“I think I got more out of this than I expected to in terms of seeing how it affects students who have done it,” she says. “They could really see how we brought the abilities together at the site in terms of working as a team, their attention to detail, and being a good problem solver. They could see their abilities in action.”