Questions and Answers: The associate director of a non-profit organization for student voters discusses the importance of student voter turnout
The general election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court will be held on April 4th and has taken place crucial implications for the future of the state.
The Supreme Court currently has a Conservative majority of 4:3. The election gives liberals that opportunity to tip the ideological constitution in their favor. The race touches on sensitive issues such as access to abortion, legal maps and other urgent matters for Wisconsin residents.
About 21% of the state’s voting-age population turned out in the primary, a big increase from 16% in 2020, the data said NBC News.
raise is a student-run non-profit organization that prioritizes student needs and helps young people participate in democracy. They hire university students to organize campaigns focused on providing affordable colleges, ending student poverty and increasing student voter turnout.
The Daily Cardinal spoke to Jason Rivera, Rise’s associate director in Wisconsin, about the impact Rise was having on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus during the election, as well as his hopes for the upcoming general election.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
How would you describe Rise and its mission in your own words?
Rise has been dedicated to fighting for the basic needs of free colleges and students since the organization’s inception.
How did you come to the organization?
Rise only hires college students, specifically to do much of the peer work. I got into college after doing a voter registration job during the 2020 election and one of my bosses there asked me to come to this other organization. Basically, it was a super startup back then. It was a group of maybe 10 people total in Wisconsin.
What are your responsibilities as Associate Director of Rise in Wisconsin?
For context, I also used to oversee Oshkosh and Madison before we closed our Oshkosh branch to remodel for the next election. I currently work primarily on the UW-Madison campus. We also work at Madison College, but not in this election cycle. A big part of my job is making sure Rise builds a foundation and partners with as many different organizations, students, and people as possible to build a presence [and] be an organization that actually fights for students. My job is to make sure that happens and make sure we run a smooth program.
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We have a strategic plan for how we’re going to approach the election [and] how we lobby and we make sure students are involved in every step of the process.
What is your strategic plan for this upcoming election?
After speaking to many people and other organizations, it became clear that many people on college campuses don’t organize, and when they do, they don’t do it effectively. Our plan, along with a coalition I am part of, is to be consistent on college campuses.
We’re out there every day of the week, Monday through Friday, to make sure people are making a plan to vote and that they’re talking to someone out there who’s putting out voter information. We also plan and host events around students’ basic needs to ensure we are sticking to our true mission.
At the end of the day, a lot of our work, especially in these election times, is focused on getting the vote and making sure we have space going forward to work with people who actually want to bring policies like free college and are doing that Life easier for students.
You mentioned that you joined the program around the 2020 election. What significant impacts have you seen in Wisconsin that Rise has been a part of?
In the 2020 election, we reached just over a million students—not just in Wisconsin, but nationwide. We are a national organization. There was a study in Georgia that was certified and it showed [Rise] has an increase in voter turnout, quite significantly actually. I think a good factor in that was the last choice. Rise was the primary organization operating on the Wisconsin college campus. In every place we’ve been, we’ve had an increase in turnout of over 20% at the student polling stations.
We did a focus group with a group of students and it turned out that many of them voted because they saw a tent outside [Memorial Union] say: “Go vote!” and that was us, Rise. We just gave them the information they need to go out and vote.
We also had students mingling with elected officials. We held a listening session where 20 elected officials listened to the students and how their policies affected them. I want to keep doing that.
What progress has been made so far to increase student voter turnout? Did you see an increase during the primaries?
The primary was actually our round of testing to see how our efforts would fare in terms of progression. The city of Madison only expected 27 people to vote at Gordon’s [Dining and Event Center], and then 512 people voted in person at Gordon’s. That’s crazy. Over and beyond, [Rise organizers in Madison] alone has got 2,000 people making a plan for voting on election day.
We checked the numbers during early voting at the polling stations where we are stationed. At Memorial Union, we looked on a Monday and 50 people voted, and then after we worked on Tuesday, 150 people voted. Seeing these increases and seeing people actually going out really helps in our mission to let us know we are actually doing a good job.
How would you personally encourage students to get more involved in local democracy?
I don’t think students realize how much influence they have on local government. I think one of the best ways to get involved is honestly fair [by] Make an election plan and sign up for an election reminder notification. When elections come up, someone from Rise will be out there on the street and say, “Hey, this is how you can help.” If you don’t know when elections are coming, don’t think about voting.
We found in our focus group that many people didn’t even know that elections were coming up on April 4th. At some point, the students are not really to blame. It’s also the fault of the organizations that don’t invest in students and the people who have the leverage to ensure students can see that information who don’t.
In general, I would only encourage students to actively try to get involved by voting and remembering when their elections are, but also encourage administrations and organizations to ensure they reach as many students as possible.
Do you think students could have a real impact in the upcoming Supreme Court election? What are your hopes for this election?
I believe that we absolutely can and will make a difference. Even if students voted at three Madison universities, it would change the entire election.
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