Sydney Erhardt: GW should help students with absentee voting

Updated: Sept. 15 at 1:13 p.m.

I watched my roommate take out a decorative green envelope, meticulously fold her absentee ballot three times and seal the envelope with a piece of neon-colored duct tape and a “New Jersey State Birds” postage stamp. As I took two minutes to fill out the Minnesota absentee ballot application online, I looked at her and thought “That’s one dedicated voter.”

Requesting and filling out absentee ballots can be confusing — even for students on the most politically active campus in the nation. Student organizations and University officials should help students through the absentee voting process. Students need more information about voting in their home states’ elections or on changing their places of residency to vote in the District.

To vote in the presidential election Nov. 8, students need to know the rules of their home states, decide if they will vote in the state they’re from or the state — District, for us — they go to school in, obtain the necessary identification and residency documents and fill out the appropriate applications all within the specified deadline of 30 days before the election. It sounds like a difficult process because, frankly, it is.

Our generation has the lowest voter turnout of any other age demographic in national elections, and it’s not due to laziness. Students must navigate a patchwork of voting laws to decide how to vote.

Lande Watson, the president of GW College Democrats, said that students from different states may not know how to absentee vote because the laws in California are extremely different from the laws in West Virginia.

“Simply put, students are confused about the registration process because it is extremely confusing,” Watson said.

Voting in D.C. may sound enticing to GW undergraduate students who spend more time in D.C. than they do in their home states — it did to me when I first came to GW. It’s where I go to school, where I work, where I pay taxes and now where I have a vested interest in local politics. But there are some hidden consequences.

College students should consider that changes in their official government residency could affect their academic scholarships or student loans. Some scholarships and student loans are contingent on residency status in a certain region or state, and a change of address on an official government document could result in scholarships getting revoked. And the changes you’d have to make don’t stop there. Any student who registers to vote in D.C. must apply for a new D.C. driver’s license and re-register their cars — if they own them — with D.C. plates within 30 days following the election. If you still want to cast your ballot in our nation’s capital, be aware that D.C. does not accept student ID cards as proper identification and student voters will be required to show proof of residency, which can include student housing statements.

I didn’t know just how complicated it would be to change my voter registration until I spent hours combing through D.C. election bylaws. It would have helped to have a fellow student, faculty member or administrator walk me through the process.

Other universities noticed that students needed help with voter registration, and they took action. American University partnered with an election service called TurboVote. TurboVote is a reminder application that notifies students by email when it’s time to request ballots or go to the polls. At Harvard University, officials offered students the ability to automatically request an absentee ballot during their move-in this fall. Ohio State University issued students zero-balance utility bills, so that they have proof of residence at the polls. Florida State University even has an entire webpage dedicated to helping students cast their votes in the presidential election.

GW could follow any of these colleges’ examples to help students decide how they want to vote this November. Right now, GW has a subsection of a subsection on their Office of the Registrar webpage that refers students to the hotline for the D.C. Board of Elections, but that isn’t enough — especially for our politically active student body.

Some student organizations host events to help students register – College Republicans, College Democrats and the Interfraternity Council will host be hosting a registration drive at the end of this month. But registration is only half the battle. It’s really about getting students to the polls on election day.

So, GW students, without guidance or resources from GW officials, it’s up to you to decide how to vote this election day, and it’s up to you to figure out how to vote. And wherever you decide to cast your vote, remember that you can’t complain if you don’t participate.

Sydney Erhardt, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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