The youngest eligible voters can weigh in on issues like gun control and climate change, but youth voter participation is still lower than all other age groups. On first thought, the relatively low turnout could be blamed on a lack of interest or care for our elected officials, but there are many students who want to vote. The process just takes more time in college.
Many college students try to take advantage of the absentee voting system, but bureaucratic rules and miscounted ballots make it more difficult for them to cast ballots. Their votes would have helped decide key recent elections – the New Hampshire Democratic primary was decided by only a few thousand votes, while the Iowa caucuses resulted in a virtual tie. Blaming low voter turnout from college students on disinterest ignores the real problems with the absentee voting system.
I am from Arizona, where only in-state voters can opt into the permanent early voting list, which allows them to automatically receive a ballot before every election. But out-of-state residents are required to request a ballot for each election. This means students attending a college outside of Arizona need to know when each election is held and remember to request a ballot before the deadline, which takes place two weeks before election day. The process can understandably be time-consuming, especially when package services slows down or disorganizes the process. On a college campus, issues with absentee voting lower people’s confidence in the system and either allows their vote to be lost in the mail or to not be sent at all.
Students have complained about the absentee ballot system in the past, saying it is a confusing and time-consuming process. There have been efforts by several states, like New York and Michigan, to make the voter registration process easier and more accessible by expanding early registration and access to voting by mail. Student organizations like GW College Democrats and GW College Republicans hold voter registration drives and promote links to voter registration websites. In most states, requesting absentee ballots means filling out a separate, more complicated form. If people want to see higher participation from college students in elections, then absentee ballots should be easier to apply for both in-person and online.
But students who have no problems requesting their absentee ballot might be nervous about whether their vote will be counted. In the 2018 Georgia elections, hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots were rejected. This brought about worries that votes might be disregarded simply because they needed to vote by mail instead of in person. In Ohio, voters were told they could bring their absentee ballots to the polls on voting day if they could not mail them in, but that is not allowed. Voters were then required to either travel to the county board of elections headquarters to submit it or cast a provisional ballot that would not be counted until weeks after the election. These extra steps in voting are tiring and worrisome for people who genuinely want to vote but are not in state when the elections come around. Students should not have to worry that the method they vote by might change whether or not their vote is counted.
There are obvious flaws in the absentee voting system that could deter people from casting their ballots. But voting is a right, not a privilege. College students should not have to try harder than others to exercise their right to democracy.
Laya Reddy, a freshman majoring in political science and music, is an opinions writer.