University issues guidance related to 2020 election activities

Vanderbilt University fully supports robust civic engagement by its students, faculty and staff. Participation in the political process is fundamental to a vibrant democracy. As Election Day approaches on Tuesday, Nov. 3, the university encourages all eligible students, staff and faculty to exercise their right to vote.

The Vanderbilt, Let’s Vote initiative aims to promote voter engagement and increase voter registration. As part of this initiative, Vanderbilt’s voting policy was expanded to allow employees who are registered to vote to be absent from work for a reasonable paid period of time, not to exceed three hours, during early voting or on Election Day. In addition, VandyRide will provide a free shuttle to two voting locations for students who wish to vote at their assigned polling place on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

The university is making a number of resources available to assist the Vanderbilt community in participating in the democratic process; however, university resources or one’s Vanderbilt affiliation may not be used to support or oppose any candidate for public office.

Federal law expressly prohibits all nonprofit organizations recognized as tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, such as Vanderbilt, from participating in any political campaign activity. Colleges and universities may not support or offer public statements in favor of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office or make contributions to political campaign funds.

Potential penalties for improper political activity by a college or university can include the loss of the institution’s tax-exempt status, imposition of taxes on the institution and its responsible managers, and other risks, such as audits or investigations by government authorities.

Colleges and universities, however, may engage in activities unrelated to a candidate for public office. These permitted activities include neutral and nonpartisan voter education drives and get-out-the-vote initiatives, hosting or presenting public forums and publishing voter education guides conducted in a neutral and nonpartisan manner, as well as other nonpartisan activities that describe, encourage, enable and inform the democratic process.

For more information, visit the American Council on Education’s issue brief on “Student Voting and College Political Campaign-Related Activities in 2020.”

To learn more about Vanderbilt’s voter engagement initiative, visit the Vanderbilt, Let’s Vote website.