Table in Howard Baker Center for voter registration

The Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy hosts a voter registration day on Tuesday Sept. 28, 2021 where any US citizen can look up registration status, ask questions, or register to vote.

People often think of Florida as UT’s main rival when it comes to football. But what about when it comes to having students registered to vote?

While the Vols are set to take on the Florida Gators at Neyland Stadium this weekend, they will also be competing with the rival university to see who can register the most voters.

In 2016, UT had a similar voting competition with Florida. That year, they won off the field by 1,000 votes and on the field by 10 points.

Interim Chief Operating Officer at the Howard Baker Center for Public Policy and Adjunct Assistant Professor in political science Katie Cahill said that the Baker Center wanted to bring the competition back. The votes from the initiative will also count toward the Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s college voter registration competition for college students in the state.

“We thought it was time to remind these Florida Gators that Tennessee Volunteers know how to win and can beat them to the ballot box and on the gridiron,” Cahill said.

According to Cahill, UT has skyrocketed when it comes to voter turnout as the percentage of students voting went from 16% in 2014 to 33% in the 2018 midterm elections. This year, they’re aiming to get to 66%.

Despite the increase, people ages 18-29 have the lowest voter turnout rate of any age group. Cahill pointed out though that Gen Z represents 20% of the U.S. population, so those votes truly make a difference, especially when they’re not there.

“That is a lot of potential silence if college students don't participate in the voting process by casting a ballot,” Cahill said.

The Student Government Association (SGA) has worked with the Baker Center on promoting this competition. SGA Chief of Staff and senior political science and communications major Juliet Gear said that encouraging voter registration does not come with a partisan agenda.

“I think we're not here to tell you who to vote for,” Gear said. “We're seriously just here wanting you to vote, exercise your right to vote and just kind of increase awareness.”

This fall does not hold a presidential election, which means there will be less media coverage and overall, fewer people talking about voting. But Gear said that these midterms are more important than students might think.

“I think state and local government is just so important to get involved with, or at least, just know what's going on to kind of feel more empowered in your community, and feel like you're helping your community in some sort of way,” Gear said. “Especially since we are here for four years, we might as well try to do all we can to leave it better than we found it.”

Registering to vote is just the first step, so after you collect points for UT, Cahill encourages you to go further and make it all the way to the ballot box this November.

“You're not a voter until you've voted,” Cahill said. “We urge all students to become voters.”

The competition will culminate with a Voter and Civic Engagement Tailgate hosted at the Baker Center on Saturday from 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. They will announce the winner of the contest and hand out a trophy at 12:45 p.m. All Volunteers are welcome to drop by for free food, games and an opportunity to register to vote or check your registration status. You can find more details here.

If you’re already registered to vote, you can still help Tennessee win the competition by checking your registration status on the Vols Vote website and signing up for election reminders. The winner of the contest is based on the number of people signed up for election reminders, so Cahill and Gear emphasized the importance of this step.

Even if you’re not a UT student, you can still participate. The competition is open to all of Vol Nation, so parents, alumni and friends are welcome to earn points for UT. There is a live tracker for the competition which you can check out on the website.

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