Swarm at the Polls

By Steven Norris | Published November 2, 2020

Two students who have never voted for president are leading voting efforts at Georgia Tech that have influenced thousands of people in Atlanta and across the country.

One had an idea that inspired the NCAA to designate Nov. 3 as an off day for all student-athletes. The other will serve as a poll manager at one of the first election locations run entirely by college students.

As with many things in 2020, it all started with a Zoom call.

Following a team video conference during the summer, Georgia Tech men’s basketball guard Malachi Rice says he was feeling the burden of a pressing issue: voting. “When you look at people our age, I was wondering why so many young people aren’t voting. Including me. I wasn’t informed, I hadn’t been thinking about it,” Rice said.



 

In a presidential election year, it was something that weighed heavily on him. "Your voice matters. Your vote matters. We need to embrace that."

He shared his thoughts with his team. Assistant Coach Eric Reveno was all ears. Together, they started developing ways for the team to be more engaged and involved in the electoral process. "You meet students like Malachi Rice and you just want to help them and empower them," Reveno said.

He researched U.S. census data for voting among 18 to 24-year-olds and found that it has been in steady decline since 1966, the year he was born.  

Coach Reveno then looked for ways to help student-athletes find nonpartisan information about voting procedures and how to cast a ballot in their respective states. That led to the men’s basketball team deciding to take election day off so players could vote and be part of the process.

Within just a couple of days, Georgia Tech’s entire athletic program had moved to cancel practices and shift schedules so that all athletes could have the same opportunity. Reveno says he knew it was a big deal when Coach Geoff Collins was willing to give the football team a Tuesday off during a game week. It makes him a little emotional.

“I was so proud. Proud to work in a place that understood its mission,” Reveno said, tears welling up in his eyes. 

“That’s where the idea for #AllVoteNoPlay came from,” Rice explained. “We started with Georgia Tech but we wanted to push for more. Let’s use this momentum.”

Reveno started tweeting about the idea of more colleges taking the day off. He made calls to other universities. Rice talked with other student-athletes, including his twin brother who plays basketball at Vanderbilt.

Other universities started joining in. Gonzaga. Butler. Boston College. Then, inspired by the announcement from Georgia Tech, the NCAA decided on Sept. 16 to prohibit practice and competition on the first Tuesday after Nov. 1 so that 460,000 student-athletes across the country could take part in Election Day.

“The amount of change in college athletics and voting has been historic,” Reveno said. “I think all we did is listen to our student-athletes.”

“I’m so proud to see this happening,” Rice said with a smile. “We pride ourselves on our team and Georgia Tech on doing the right thing.”

Simultaneously, another Tech student was working hard on an initiative of his own – and it involved the home arena of the basketball team.

When Georgia Tech’s Student Center began undergoing extensive renovation, international relations major Samuel Ellis wondered where students on campus would vote. His proposal: turn McCamish Pavilion into a polling precinct and staff it completely with Georgia Tech students.

Ellis has been volunteering as a poll worker himself and has experienced the challenges of ensuring a smooth voting process. He connected with Georgia Tech’s Institute Relations team, who helped him pitch the idea to Fulton County election officials.

“We were making sure we were getting the right people at the table,” says Morgan McCombs, associate director of State Relations for Georgia Tech. Those election officials toured the site and heard Ellis’ plans to staff the location with trained Georgia Tech students. They decided to give it a go.

When Ellis put out a call for 12 poll volunteers, he received more than 250 replies. So not only will the polling location at McCamish Pavilion be staffed by students, but those extra volunteers have also been trained to troubleshoot issues with the electronic ballot machines and will be dispatched across the state as technicians to support precincts with technological issues on Election Day.

Ellis will likely be the youngest poll manager in Georgia, and quite possibly in the entire country. At 20, he’s never voted for president before.

“To have a polling location entirely staffed by students is remarkable,” McCombs said. “It springs from a servant-leadership mindset of how we can put to work the investment the state has made in Georgia Tech and return that to our state and our community.”

Across Georgia Tech, staff and students, coaches and consultants have all pulled together to make these changes a reality. Coach Reveno helped with the logistics of securing McCamish Pavilion as a voting location.

“It’s been a priority for Athletics and they’ve been an incredible partner. Coach Reveno never missed a meeting or a call helping to make sure this would be possible,” McCombs recalled.

“Be a good teammate. That’s what this is about,” Reveno said. “Everyone’s focused on doing their part.”

It will also be Malachi Rice’s first time voting for a president, and he’ll be volunteering to support voting operations at McCamish. “It’s incredible that the place where we play our home games is turning into a place where people can come and vote,” he said.

More than 3,500 voters from midtown Atlanta have been assigned to McCamish. Ellis and his team are ready and excited.

“I feel like we’ve been part of something special,” Ellis said. “Now when other schools across the country want to set up a polling location for their community, they can see how we did it at Georgia Tech.”

***


Credits
Writer: Steven Norris
Designer: Brice Zimmerman
Videography: Steven Norris, Evan Atkinson, Brice Zimmerman
Video Editor: Steven Norris