With early polling locations in the November general election opening next week, college students across the country are preparing to vote, some of them for the first time.

Issues including the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare, the environment and racial justice have made this an election that some are describing as perhaps the most important in a generation. And with an ongoing pandemic, voting will look much different this year. 

To help ensure Black Hawk County voters can cast their ballot safely, the University of Northern Iowa last week announced that the UNI-DOME would be opened as an early-voting location for the first time. Wearing masks and remaining socially distanced is required. 

UNI is one of the nation’s top universities for student voter turnout and is encouraging students through the #PantherVotes initiative to register to vote no matter where they are. Early voting in Iowa begins next week, running from Oct. 6-10.  

You can register to vote online or check your registration status online. With deadlines to request and return an absentee ballot fast approaching, #PanthersVote is encouraging students to act quickly. 

“If you want your voice to be heard in the 2020 election, it’s critical that you register to vote and make plans on how and when to cast a ballot now,” said political science professor and #PanthersVote leader Justin Holmes. “While the pandemic prevented us from providing in-person support for registration or opening polling locations at smaller campus locations, we know our students want to be counted.”  

#PanthersVote is a unified, nonpartisan effort to increase student participation in elections. It’s led by the Northern Northern Iowa Student Government (NISG) and university chapters of the American Democracy Project (ADP) and Campus Election Engagement Project (CEEP) along with the political science department and UNI Athletics.

UNI has a strong tradition of civic engagement, posting the nation’s second-highest student voting rate in the 2016 presidential election and the highest voter turnout of any Iowa public university in 2018.