In what is believed to be the first time an institution of higher education has made 50-state voter registration a routine part of new student week orientation, a new Northwestern University initiative registered nearly 1,000 students last week.

The students – mostly freshmen – were registered while waiting in line for their student ID cards (WildCARDs). More than 80 percent of the eligible, unregistered voters who passed through the line took advantage of the opportunity to register, according to Rebecca Portman, an undergraduate fellow at Northwestern’s Center for Civic Engagement and staff coordinator of the NU Votes initiative.

“Add in the students who reported being registered to vote already — around 40 percent — and nine in 10 eligible voters who passed though the line during Wildcat Welcome Week are registered now either at their campus or their hometown address,” Portman said.

Medill freshman Jasen Pinkerton planned to register to vote before he left his hometown of Cleveland for Evanston but never quite found the time. Waiting in line for his WildCARD proved to be his opportunity. “It’s a good way to get freshmen registered,” he said.

NU Votes, the nonpartisan voter registration initiative administered by Northwestern’s Center for Civic Engagement in cooperation with Student Affairs and University Services, provides accessible information about voter registration and voting procedures.

“College is a great time to start developing a commitment to responsible civic participation, and registering to vote is a wonderful first step,” said Robert Donahue, Center for Civic Engagement associate director.

Throughout the year, the center will continue to support walk-in registrations for the University community and encourage returning students to update their registration information as needed. It also will hold registration drives at varied campus locations and help student groups organize their own voter registration drives.

Under the Higher Education Act of 1998, colleges and universities that receive federal funds are required to make a “good faith effort” to distribute voter registration materials to every student.

For more about the NU Votes initiative, visit NU Votes at