“Students for Voting Justice is a good way to get involved in politics for people who don't know where to start.” - Rayven B., intern
ORIGINS OF SVJ
Students for Voting Justice was founded in May 2020 when the co-founders, Claire Ullman and Sandy Radoff, had the idea to put their skills together to address the needs of that moment.
Claire was teaching political science at Barnard College and heard from her students that all their summer jobs and internships had been canceled due to the pandemic, and she had started working her network to find them opportunities. Sandy, a market researcher with her own business, was a major volunteer for the Reclaim Our Vote postcard campaign of the Center for Common Ground and had already distributed about 30,000 postcards to volunteers in Manhattan – she knew that many more thousands of volunteers were needed to turn out the vote in the most important election of our lifetime. They put those two needs together and Students for Voting Justice was born.
Originally, SVJ was known as Students for Justice. In 2024, we changed our name to Students for Voting Justice, putting voting at the center of our name to reflect its centrality to our work.
We have held seven internship sessions so far, two each in 2020, 2021, and 2022, and one in 2023, and have provided almost 500 paid internships.
Because the internship is remote, we have been able to vary the geographic focus of our efforts to work on the most important elections. We have also been able to vary our internship recruitment strategy.
In the summer and fall sessions of 2020, we worked to get out the vote in numerous states across the South and Southwest. In the spring of 2021, our interns worked on getting out the vote for the special election in Ohio Congressional District 11, and in the fall of 2021, our interns worked to get out the vote for the Virginia election.
Corresponding with that wide geographic focus for our work, in 2020 and 2021 we recruited interns from all around the country. During those two years, we had interns from over 85 different colleges in 35 different states.
In 2022, we decided to narrow both the focus of our get-out-the-vote work and our intern recruitment to Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. Additionally, so that our interns would better reflect the communities of color in which we are doing voter outreach, we intensified our efforts to recruit interns from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). In 2022, we enrolled 40 interns for the summer and 80 interns in the fall. Almost all were students attending college in our target states, and well over 90% identify as African American.
In 2023, we again focused on the state legislative elections in Virginia. Our 45 interns reached roughly one in two Black VA voters with their postcards, phone calls, and social media messages. Focusing on state legislative elections gives us an opportunity to educate our interns about the importance of state and local government and the possibilities for meaningful change at that level.
In addition to the seven internship sessions we have held, we have offered two mini-sessions. In both 2020 and 2022, we ran special mini-sessions to bring back interns to work on the Georgia runoff elections by creating social media messaging to persuade young people to vote. The 2022 Georgia mini-session also involved former interns in intensive phone banking.
“Before this internship, I had a very pessimistic outlook on politics, but this internship showed me that a lot of good can come from political organizing.”—Robert N., intern
In the summer and fall of 2024 we will focus our voter outreach efforts on Georgia and North Carolina, two of the states whose voters will likely decide the outcome of the presidential election and determine the balance of power in Congress. Black and youth voters will be the key, and they are our focus. We plan to enroll 40 interns in the summer and 80 in the fall.
We continue to build on and refine our original model. We now have a pathway to promotion within the program. We bring back star interns to serve as managers of teams of new interns and have developed a leadership training curriculum for them run by two retired senior executives who volunteer their time. Star team managers can then come back as senior team managers, mentoring new team managers under the guidance of our volunteers.
We are committed to growing SVJ in the coming years with the goal of training an expanding cohort of young people to become the leaders of the fight for voting rights. It is our mission to empower our youth to strengthen our democracy.
“Seeing the outcome in the VA election gave me a genuine sense of pride. I want to continue working towards ensuring that our rights are protected.” –Jayden H., intern
MEET THE CO-FOUNDERS
Claire Ullman is a political scientist who taught until recently at Barnard College and Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs. She holds a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University and a BA from Harvard University. Before she went to graduate school, Claire helped found an emergency shelter for homeless women and children in Seattle as a VISTA volunteer and then stayed on as its development officer and then its Assistant Director. She served on the board of the Grand Street Settlement in New York City from 1995 to 2008. Finally, and perhaps most relevant to her current job as Co-Director of Students for Justice, Claire is the parent of three recent college graduates.
Sandra Radoff is a researcher and statistician who has her own business as a marketing and opinion research consultant. She has a Masters Degree in Applied Mathematics and Statistics and recently went back to graduate school to indulge her passion by completing all the coursework towards a Masters Degree in political science. For the past several years, she has spent considerable time as an activist focusing on the environment and social justice. Being Co-Director of Students for Justice has brought the most meaningful pieces of her life together in one place. Sandra lives in New York City with her husband and has two grown children, a son and a daughter, both Millennials.