Tennessee athletics organized voter education process for Vols athletes

Jaden Springer noticed the sticker on Kim English’s shirt at Tennessee basketball practice last week.

“You voted, coach?” the Tennessee freshman asked the Vols assistant coach, just as UT basketball director of operations Mary-Carter Eggert walked over to Springer carrying his absentee ballot from North Carolina. 

Springer, who turned 18 in late September, told English he had never voted before.

“I told him his state is an important state,” English said. “It is a swing state. He asked what that means and I explained it to him and that there’s not many of them.”

That brief explanation capped months of voter education and conversations spanning the emotions of seeing George Floyd’s death on camera, social injustice protests and dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic that have taken place across Tennessee athletics. 

First-time voters

Springer, like many of his teammates and fellow UT athletes who come to Knoxville from around the country, registered to vote for the first time in the 2020 presidential election.

To help these young voters, the Tennessee athletic department provided nonpartisan education on voter registration, the voting process, types of elections and more in the months leading to the Nov. 3 election.

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“Our process has been regardless of who you vote for, your vote matters,” said Jess Wildfire, an executive director for student-athlete development at UT. “You have the ability to impact your community in this way and decisions that are made in your community by voting.”

At least 425 Tennessee athletes registered to vote through the student-athlete development office and many others registered independently, UT spokesperson Tom Satkowiak said. All eligible voters on the basketball, women’s basketball, women’s tennis, volleyball and softball rosters registered to vote in the 2020 election, while many other sports approached roster-wide registration. 

The NCAA mandated schools give athletes Nov. 3 off without practices or competitions. 

“We just want them to exercise their rights as American citizens,” English said. “We are not asking or promoting our players to be activists if they do not want to. We want them to read, be educated and we want to be there for them and support them in whatever they may be feeling. 

“We support our student-athletes in whatever they are feeling in these times.”

How UT provided nonpartisan education

Conversations with athletes in June sparked the voter education process from the student-athlete development office. Staffers organized and provided educational materials. 

Wildfire said athletes were motivated to vote, but needed more information “because it can be a really convoluted process.” The department partnered with on-campus organizations, including the staff at the Howard J. Baker Center for Public Policy and the Student-Athletic Advisory Council, and local groups such as the Knoxville/Knox County League of Women Voters.

UT hosted a Zoom meeting to discuss voter registration, absentee ballots and the importance of local elections. The student-athlete development staff followed up with websites on how to register in each state. 

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College coaches working to drive voter turnout among athletes

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USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg breaks down the latest Amway Coaches Poll.

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Towson associate women’s basketball coach Zach Kancher logged on to a Zoom call one evening last week and pulled up his latest scouting report. It started with the schedule, then information on personnel, then a series of strategies and tendencies that he knew would be critical in the weeks ahead.

Kancher has put together hundreds of scouting reports like this over the course of his coaching career. But this one had nothing to do with a game, and he wasn’t presenting it to his own team. He was helping members of Pittsburgh’s athletic department prepare to get out the vote.

“You put it in the framework, the language that coaches and student-athletes find acceptable,” Kancher said. “And now it creates a lot more clarity as far as what’s going on.”

As Election Day nears, coaches like Kancher have been at the center of a get-out-the-vote groundswell in college athletics, where athletic department officials are going to new lengths this year to ensure that their athletes cast their ballots by Nov. 3.

The NCAA’s Division I Council did its part last month by voting to prohibit athletically-related activities, including practices and games, on Election Day. Meanwhile, dozens of athletic departments have held voter registration drives and ensured that 100% of their eligible athletes are registered to vote, from Oregon and DePaul to California State University, Los Angeles and Yale.

Members of the Auburn football team registered to vote last month. (Photo: Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics, Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics)

Other schools have hit the same threshold at the team level, with entire rosters registering to vote, sometimes as a group. At the University of Missouri, for example, more than 60 football players marched in June from their campus to a local courthouse to register en masse shortly after George Floyd’s death.

“Our country’s created to make change through our elective bodies,” Missouri football coach Eli Drinkwitz told reporters on a teleconference last week. “That’s how the founding fathers have established it. That’s the way that we get to voice who we’re for and what we’re for.”

‘NO MORE EXCUSES’: Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse urging Americans in Canada to vote

Though athletes have been the driving force behind many of these voting initiatives, there’s been a notable shift on voting from coaches. Many have long encouraged their athletes to vote, often privately or individually. But this year, they have collectively embraced and emphasized get-out-the-vote efforts like rarely before — often orchestrating team-wide voting initiatives that might have, in previous election cycles, felt like a step too far into the political realm.

Kancher, who is in his fourth season at Towson, is both evidence and at the center of that shift.

Earlier this summer, as the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black men and women sparked protests around the country, Kancher said he saw athletes who were looking for ways to turn their emotions into

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For A Summit Mother And Daughter, Voter Education Starts At Home

SUMMIT, NJ — Like many parents, Tracy Keegan is always mindful of the kind of world her three daughters grow up in and how vital election results can be in determining what that world looks like. But as someone who has been active in spreading the word about the importance of voting, Keegan also wanted to make sure her daughters are involved in spreading such a vital message.

For Keegan, the co-founder of the locally-based activist group, Summit Marches On, the grassroots effort started at home. Last week, the not-for-profit organization sent out nearly 18,500 letters and 3,000 postcards to voters in battleground states reminding residents in those states to cast their ballots. For Keegan’s daughter, Katie – a freshman at the University of Delaware – the excitement of voting in her first election in November was part of the motivation to get in on the action of helping with the massive mailing campaign.

As part of a national effort called The Big Send organized by another not-for-profit, Vote Forward, the mother and daughter team led a local campaign to inform as many battleground state voters to get be active in the days leading up to election day.

“In a time of so much turmoil and division, compounded by the isolation of the pandemic, people really responded to the idea that they could reach out to their fellow Americans in such a personal way,” Tracy Keegan said. “As a mom of three daughters, I, like most parents, want to ensure that the world my children inherit is better than the one I grew up in. And right now? That future is uncertain.”

In January, Summit Marches On began distributing voter packets to its members that included everything volunteers would need to write letters to voters in battleground states, encouraging their participation in the voting process. For Katie Keegan, who has been at home for long stretches of time because of the coronavirus pandemic, getting involved including help her mother stamping a few letters and helping to get more than 1,500 local voters registered in an effort earlier this year. By September, she was mailing out mailer packets by the dozens each day to make sure voters were getting a clear message that their voice matters come November.

Summit Marches On board members, Amanda Greenblatt, Tracy Keegan, Lacey Cotter-Rzeszowski, Terri Tauber (photo courtesy of Tracy Keegan)
Summit Marches On board members, Amanda Greenblatt, Tracy Keegan, Lacey Cotter-Rzeszowski, Terri Tauber (photo courtesy of Tracy Keegan)

Katie Keegan balanced the mailing effort with other community projects she has become involved in because of the on-going pandemic. But as she prepares to vote for the first time herself in the November election, she realized how important targeting voters in key states was in helping shape her future.

“Being part of the work my mom and Summit Marches On have been doing for the last three years makes me feel like I am actually doing something to help people who have been marginalized since (President Donald) Trump took office,” said Katie Keegan, who, along with her mother have addressed and sent

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Texas college student flies home from California to cast his ballot as voter turnout surges

When Texas Sen. John Cornyn saw the latest Texas early voting numbers on Monday, he asked his Twitter followers a simple question: “Who says voting in Texas is hard?”

Bradley Bain, a 23-year-old senior from Dallas at Pomona College in California, is one Texan taking exception because they’re finding it very difficult to vote.

“I’m literally spending >$400 to fly to Dallas and vote in person because you ‘accidentally’ flagged me as committing voter fraud in 2018, took me off the voter rolls, and made me ineligible to vote by mail in 2020,” Bain responded to the Republican in a tweet that has more than 176,000 likes as of Tuesday evening.

Bain hadn’t received a response for weeks after sending his absentee ballot application to the Dallas County Elections Department, so he booked a last-minute flight on Monday home to Dallas so he could vote in person.

“It’s been such a saga just to figure out how to vote,” said Bain, who cast his ballot Tuesday during early voting. “I wasn’t going to waste my opportunity to do so.”

Bain’s trip across half the country to cast his ballot captures the enthusiasm of Texas voters this election cycle — even in the midst of a pandemic.

As of Tuesday morning, more than 4.6 million Texans had cast their ballots after seven days of early voting.

In each of Texas’ 10 largest counties, that voter turnout was higher than at the same point in 2016.

Harris County, which had 566,741 votes after seven days four years ago, had more than 720,000 votes this year. Dallas County had 326,149 at this time four years ago. This election, it’s up to 392,774.

Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties — all battleground areas — also have higher turnout this year than at the same time in 2016.

Texans have until Oct. 30 to cast their ballots early after Gov. Greg Abbott extended the early voting period in response to COVID-19. But it is unclear whether that high turnout will keep up or die down as the end draws closer.

Thomas Gray, a political scientist at UT Dallas, cautioned against reading too much into the uptick in early voting. The pandemic, he said, had changed the dynamics of voting and some groups, like the Democratic Party, had placed an emphasis on encouraging voters to cast their ballots early to avoid possible exposure in long lines.

“As a result we’re seeing huge numbers across the country but also in Texas of early voting at levels that are higher than before,” Gray said. “The main question is how much of this is cannablized voting? People who are voting now but would have voted on Election Day. That’s why we’re so cautious of overinterpreting.”

Democrats have hung their hopes on new and younger voters, like Bain, flocking to the polls during a crucial presidential election.

Bain suspects he was blocked from voting by mail due to complications from having his name stripped from the Texas voter rolls during a

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