Leading the Way to the Polls

By Hilary Dyer Brannon

Lead the Way, a student-led initiative affiliated with the Leadership and Service Center, has garnered national attention this election season. As of the South Carolina voter registration deadline, Lead the Way had registered the second most voters on a college campus in the nation, using voter registration website TurboVote.

New to campus this fall, the initiative was created by UofSC senior Cory Alpert, who has served as the voter registration campaign’s first executive director. Since its inception, the initiative has been working to increase voter registration and student engagement in the upcoming election.

“Lead the Way came out of a conversation with President Pastides last February, where we talked about how much we wanted to encourage young people to get out and vote,” Alpert said. “I thought that this project would be at a perfect intersection between community organizing and politics. From there, Lead the Way began to grow and expand in exciting ways, bringing on a staff of about 20 student leaders at UofSC alone.”

Lead the Way registered 4,261 individuals prior to the South Carolina voter registration deadline in October, and the number continues to grow. According to Alpert, the current total is just under 4,400.

“One of the goals of the Leadership and Service Center is to help students put their ideas into action,” said Ryan Patterson, a Leadership Coach in the Leadership and Service Center. “Lead the Way is an example of how this can happen and turn into a great success. The Leadership and Service Center was able to provide resources and guidance to the students of Lead the Way. This coupled with their ideas, passion, and determination has led to a lasting impact on the level of civic engagement of students on our campus.”

Because of its success, the initiative has begun to grow beyond UofSC. Combined with Lead the Way at Clemson University, the total number of registered voters is 5,727. The total number of voters registered through the UofSC and Clemson Lead the Way chapters will be announced at the Carolina-Clemson football game.

“Other college campuses are implementing Lead the Way as a nationwide collegiate voter registration campaign, which is exciting to see,” Alpert said. “Lead the Way will be transitioning national executive leadership to Clemson next year, and it will shift campuses every year after that. We’re solidifying permanent partnerships with TurboVote and National Voter Registration Day, which will encourage growth into the future.”

In addition to its voter registration goal of 5,000 individuals, Lead the Way created a forum series focused on leadership and civic engagement. The lineup featured industry leaders from myriad sectors including climate change, civil rights, economic empowerment, women in politics, media in politics, and national security.

“What I enjoyed most about working with the student leaders of Lead the Way was being able to see them put their passion for democracy into action,” Patterson said. “These students put forth many hours of their time to help their peers have the ability to exercise their right to vote.”

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The Leadership and Service Center is a premier space on campus offering a unique and collaborative environment for students to explore their own leadership development.