New orientation Canvas module encourages freshman voter registration

Student Government partnered with the Florida Public Interest Research Group to create a Canvas module on voter registration that will be included in the pre-orientation course for incoming freshmen. UNSPLASH/Glen Carrie

Registering to vote will become easier for incoming students as more information, tips and insights will be written into part of their learning curriculum before they step foot on campus.

Orientation for incoming students will be split into three segments: a pre-orientation Canvas course, requirements for the students’ academic program and a full day of orientation conducted synchronously via Microsoft Teams.

Student Government (SG) has partnered with Florida Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) to create a Canvas module on voter registration that will be implemented into the pre-orientation Canvas course starting this year.

The module will be finalized by the end of March and will include a page with step-by-step instructions and a video on how to register to vote and update one’s voter registration, an FAQ page and a discussion board for any incoming students with additional questions.

While students must complete the module, they won’t be required to register to vote or update voter registration as a part of certifying its completion.

“The video is really helpful because you’re able to see how to do it yourself. I remember when I was learning how to register to vote online, I was like ‘This is so much information. I don’t want to go through this,’” said Florida PIRG USF Vice President Jona Skendaj.

“I would mess up my page and it wouldn’t let me click to the next one. I’m like ‘What is it? What am I even doing wrong.’”

TurboVote, a voter registration software, has also been embedded into the module to help take students directly through the process of registering to vote.

“[TurboVote] lets you start your registration online no matter what state you’re planning to register in,” said Tampa Lieutenant Governor Zach Blair-Andrews. “So even if students want to stay registered in a different state that they live in, they can use this software and it will guide you through the online process no matter what state you’re starting from or updating from.”

Students will not be quizzed on the information, but they will have to certify they have completed the module by electronically signing an agreement embedded in the module.

If students do not certify they’ve completed the module they won’t be able to attend the live orientation sessions.

Blair-Andrews authored the module’s contents alongside Florida PIRG campus organizer Crystal Boutwell and Skendaj, but writing the proposal for the idea was a two-month process, according to Skendaj.

“We would meet every two weeks to edit it and then we sent it to Dr. Dris Stephen in the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement,” said Skendaj.

“We sent the language to him to review from an administrator standpoint, before we ever met with [the Office of Orientation], and he sent us back some very good tips on how to improve the language and make it more localized. Then we took it to the Office of Orientation and they were very impressed and they were on board.”

The idea for the voter registration module originated from SG President-elect Jaida Abbas, who was the Assistant Director of Government Affairs at the time of her proposal.

She proposed implementing automatic voter registration for students in May 2020. In her proposal, she outlined two options, creating a civic engagement module for students to complete or having orientation leaders hand out voter registration forms and deliver them to the supervisor of elections.

“I believe fully in writing proposals and creating plans that you can pass on to people who will inherit your role or your job after you,” said Abbas. “That provides SG some longevity and that provides you some peace of mind because your ideas can still maybe come to fruition if you set up the next person for success.”

Implementing changes into the orientation curriculum can take 12-18 months of planning ahead of time, according to Abbas.

“So even the fact that orientation was willing to talk about this and then willing to implement it this summer is a little bonkers,” she said.

Boutwell said everyone involved in the module’s creation was in favor of partnering with the Office of Orientation to increase voter registration among USF students due to its wide access to a large number of students.

“We were talking to Student Government about orientation being the perfect place because unless you’re a transfer student, every single [student] comes through [first-year] orientation,” she said. “We are also working to get this implemented in [transfer student orientation] as well so this will touch every single student at USF.”

Although registering to vote won’t be a requirement for the module, its authors hope it will make the process easier for students and incentivize them to take the time to do so with a guiding hand.

“This is just a great way for people to just have the information right out in front of them, and it gives them a time to do it,” said Skendaj.

“People are like, ‘Oh, I’ll just push that back. I’ll push that back,’ but now they have to go through orientation and they’re like, ‘I’m already signed up doing other modules. I might as well do it now.’”