JOHNSON CITY (Aug. 29, 2016) – In an attempt to address one of American democracy’s biggest problems – low and unequal participation that leads to low levels of engagement beyond college – the Southern Conference is launching “SoCon Votes,” the first voter engagement competition in an NCAA Division I athletic conference.

“SoCon Votes” aims to capitalize on existing rivalries among schools to transform student voting engagement into a contest to be tracked by a national voting organization.

East Tennessee State University, along with each of the conference’s nine participating institutions, has formed a team of students, faculty and staff to compete in four rounds.  After each round, a panel of voter engagement advisers will rank the teams based on a rubric.

“The rubric will consist of certain criteria, like get-out-the-vote efforts, ballot access, voter knowledge and more,” said Mercer University senior Joey Wozniak, who developed “SoCon Votes” with a grant from the Knight Foundation Fund at the Community Foundation of Central Georgia.  “Theoretically, schools will come up with innovative ways to reach out to students in those specific areas.”

In the first round, teams sign up for the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE), which offers colleges and universities the opportunity to learn student registration and voting rates.  Teams will be judged based on their institution’s voter turnout for the 2012 election.  ETSU received its report in July and plans to build upon this information to improve student voter registration and participation this fall.

In the second round, teams create a playbook designed to increase voter engagement for the 2016 election and are judged based on the composition of their plans, while in the third round, teams will put their playbooks into action and be judged based upon how successful they were in implementing their plans.

The championship round will be judged based upon NSLVE reports for the 2016 election, with awards going to the teams with the highest and most improved undergraduate voter turnouts.

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