Column: GW should upgrade mail services so students can cast their votes

With the 2022 midterm elections approaching, time is running out for absentee voters to send in their ballots. For those of us who study out of state, we must receive and send a ballot via mail to our home state to cast our vote. Students must send or postmark their ballots by Election Day depending on their home state laws to make sure they count. But with an inefficient system standing in the way, GW’s Mail and Postal Services is threatening to stifle the student vote.

Most residence halls only have physical mailboxes that require a key or lock combination to open, creating a delayed and extremely inconvenient system. To open a mailbox, students in Amsterdam Hall must walk five blocks to the Key Depot and retrieve their key before returning it later. But without any notification system, residents won’t know if the round trip is worth the hassle until they crack their mailbox open. Even worse, the time it takes to receive postal services is abysmal – I once watched my friend open a Christmas card in February. When I lived in Madison Hall, I warned every person who sent me mail that it would probably take up to a month or two longer to arrive.

As students begin to order our absentee ballots, we cannot wait for them to collect dust in mailboxes or package stacks for weeks on end, especially as critical state deadlines near. The University clearly does not respect students’ time enough to facilitate a need so simple as mail delivery. Students deserve a reliable mailing system with a proper notification process and technological update that allows them to meet their states’ deadlines. During one of the most controversial and impactful elections in recent history, every one of us needs to make sure our voice is heard. GW should seize Election Day as an opportunity to rectify an outdated system and ensure students have a way to cast their ballots.

GW should update all residence halls with mail systems like the electronic lockers in Shenkman Hall to ensure students receive the reliable postal services they deserve. I currently live in Shenkman and simply pick up my mail and packages anytime I am on my way up to my room. Lockers line the lobby of my residence hall, where students can punch a PIN into a digital screen that opens the appropriate locker containing their mail. For my recent birthday, I received several letters from California, North Carolina and Tennessee, all of which arrived within a week after my family sent them and generated an email notification when they were ready for pick-up. All other students deserve the same hassle-free experience, no matter where they live.

GW should help make students’ mail voting experience as seamless as possible instead of contributing to societal systems that deter them from voting. Transitioning to adulthood is difficult enough, so the least the University can do is provide the postal services necessary for students to exercise their basic right to vote. If my mailbox remained empty after several trips to the Key Depot while waiting for a delivery, I would not be hopeful about ordering an absentee ballot. Installing updated lockers in residence halls would eliminate the journey students take to Key Depot and reduce the workload of Key Depot employees. At an institution that teaches and prioritizes the importance of civic engagement, reliable voting systems should already be in place for its students.

Extreme delays in receiving paper mail is not only an issue for the upcoming election but also for accessibility to other crucial mail and basic communication. I know several people whose employers confirmed their paychecks made it to Mail and Postal Services, but they never turned up. Another friend of mine had to pay extra fees when their doctor’s bills weren’t paid on time because the bill did not arrive for two months until after the due date. In District House, one of my friends’ locker combinations did not work for a month, leaving them without access to a necessary ID for several weeks. Students are losing essential money, documents and possessions – all on top of their ability to vote. The solution is easily achievable – space already exists for electronic lockers to replace manual mailboxes in residence hall lobbies, and upgrading the technology would ensure that all essential mail arrives in a timely manner.

I was immediately confused when I heard from friends that they were worried about their absentee ballots arriving in time – my easy access to postal services allowed me to completely overlook the possibility of a delayed absentee ballot. Installing electronic lockers instead of outdated mailboxes would shuttle mail to and from students more rapidly with an efficient notification system in place. If I wanted my absentee ballot to arrive months late, I would send it with a pigeon or ship it in a bottle across the ocean. Students deserve to exercise their right to vote, and GW should not uphold any services that discourage new voters from doing so.

Riley Goodfellow, a sophomore majoring in political science, is the contributing opinions editor.

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