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McCormick Professor Helps Get Out The Vote

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October 28, 2008 | by Megan Fellman
EVANSTON, Ill. --- The lobby of Tech at the McCormick School of Engineering bustled Monday in a flurry of forms, copies, and stamps as students scrambled to register to vote in their home states before the deadline passed.

Students volunteering through NU Decides, a voter outreach group, spent the day — and the past two weeks — registering Northwestern students "from swing states (and all states)" as their banner read. But their efforts got a boost from Michael Peshkin, professor of mechanical engineering, who used his eye for efficiency and his passion for politics to make sure students get a chance to have their say.

Peshkin created VoteBackHome.com, a web site where he compiled enrollment data showing how many students come from each swing state. The site offers a detailed kit for organizing a ground campaign to reach swing state-voters on non-swing-state campuses, like Northwestern's, which has 1800 students from swing states.

"I've gotten a hundred e-mails reminding me to register to vote, and I'm sure the students have, too," he says. But his engineer's eye was already looking for a way to make the process more effective and efficient. "Those e-mails don't work nearly as well as talking to students face-to-face. So I created the data sets and the tools needed for students to do that."

Peshkin helped provide the student group with resources – like stamps and a photocopier — and printed up state-specific instructions, voter registration forms, and absentee ballot requests.

"By working with the NU Decides students I learned how to do this efficiently," he says. "And efficiency is having all those forms ready so students can fill them out, make a copy of their driver's license, and then have the envelope and stamps right there ready for mailing."

The program appears to be working — over the past several weeks, more than 1,300 Northwestern students have registered to vote. The program has been picked up by over a dozen other colleges and universities from California to New York.

"I think it's a college's mission to encourage students to ask themselves, 'Am I a spectator or am I a participant?" Peshkin says. "And this helps them become participants."
Topics: People