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McCormick Professor Helps Get Out The Vote

Mechanical engineering professor Michael Peshkin uses his eye for efficiency and passion for politics to help Northwestern students far from home vote on election day.

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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