Drysdale is the assistant director for campus partnerships at the All In Campus Democracy Challenge, which works to increase nonpartisan democratic engagement on college campuses.
In the rural mountains of northern Thailand, I clutched my colleague Wan around the waist as I sat perched on the back of his dirt bike. I'd joined him on this seven-hour ride through winding mountains to his hometown to witness him vote in Thailand's first democratic election in five years. At that moment I was not aware that this journey would eventually divert my nascent career in international development to one focused on democratic engagement in the United States.
As I learned more about the U.S. election process, I became increasingly aware of the various privileges I have in accessing the polls. In high school, my social studies teacher drove our class to the courthouse to register to vote. In my first election during college in 2006, a mentor from my small Iowa community emailed me to ask if I had requested my absentee ballot yet; I had not and likely wouldn't have without that reminder. In 2008, I still remember the buzz and excitement at the polling place conveniently located on my campus. During the 2012 presidential election, while I was living abroad, my mom helped the county clerk send me a ballot in Australia. Only later did I realize this level of support and access was not the norm.
It's because of these experiences – seeing the lengths to which some people must go to cast a ballot and becoming aware of how instrumental early support is to becoming a voter – that I now work to support youth democratic engagement in the United States at the All In Campus Democracy Challenge.
With 20 million students attending colleges and universities in the United States, it is imperative that higher education institutions leverage their opportunity to help increase nonpartisan civic learning and democratic engagement to develop informed and involved members of our communities and our democracy.
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