Student Voting

This year’s presidential election has seen increased participation by younger voters in the campaigns of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Ron Paul. If younger citizens vote in the general election, there is likely to be a record turnout this year. “In 2004, 20.1 million 18 to 29 year olds voted, a 4.3 million increase over 2000. The additional turnout among the youngest voters was more than double that of any other age group.” So said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer at a press conference before a hearing “Ensuring the Rights of College Students to Vote” in the Committee on House Administration.

Enthusiasm for a candidate does not automatically result in the casting of an actual vote. Often, there are barriers preventing students from voting. Several states require voters to apply in person for absentee ballots, a requirement that is difficult for students who live away from home. Other states have limited access to absentee ballots to only those who are ill, pregnant, or otherwise unable to reach polling stations. An article in the Chronicle of Education, Members of Congress Worry That Students Are Being Misled About Voting Rights, raises concerns that students get conflicting information on where they should register to vote, whether at a university address or at a home address and what effects that decision has on issues like scholarships, health or car insurance and driver’s licenses. Different state laws on absentee voting add more confusion. And there’s the question whether election officials actually include absentee ballots in final voting results. See US News & World Report’s article Confusing Voter Registration Laws Could Affect Presidential Election.
Organizations such as Rock the Vote and Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE) have been active in getting students to register to vote and leading advocates for youth election protection. This past summer, student members of SAVE worked with members of Congress to introduce the Student VOTER Act of 2008 that will require states to designate federally funded institutions of higher education as agencies for the registration of voters in federal elections and to provide mail voter registration application forms to students when they register for their courses.

Project Vote Smart: the Voter’s Self-Defense System is a useful resource more information about voting. Another useful site is NYU Law’s Brennan Center on Student Voting Rights. Links are also included here for state by state voter laws and registration deadlines and absentee and early voting laws. New York State’s law sets the registration deadline 25 days before the election so that October 10 is the last day to register for the General Election.