Obstacles College Students Face While Attempting to Vote

By Briauna Benson on August 8, 2022

The midterms elections are approaching this fall and college students will start and head back to school. There will also be obstacles college students face while attempting to vote. Voter suppression is not a new phenomenon but, there have been some recent roadblocks put in place by politicians in recent years, making it harder for college students attempting to vote.

The 26th amendment protects the right to vote for young people in this country and they’re also the most disenfranchised. College students have the power to sway elections nationwide and yet the voting turnout tends to be very low. Many people, immediately allude to college students being disinterested but, the reason is more complex than that. Voter residency laws, deciphering absentee ballot procedures, and Identification requirements differ depending on which state one resides in. This leads to confusion, especially for those attempting to vote for the first time.

via Pexels

Most of the obstacles that college students face while attempting to vote are due to:

Voter ID laws 

One of the first obstacles college student face while attempting to vote are voter ID laws. Some states require having a photo and non-photo ID, 35 out of 50 states have their own set of in-person voter ID laws, but what qualifies as an acceptable form of ID varies from state to state. 18 out of the 35 voter ID states permit voters without ID to sign a personal identification affidavit as an alternative to presenting ID. Or voters can cast a provisional ballot which will count as long as the signature matches what’s on the registration database, or otherwise authorize alternative verification of the voter’s identity. And 17 out of 50 states have strict voting laws about accepting certain student IDs and what information the ID must contain in order to be acceptable.

Deciphering absentee ballot

Absentee voting rules differ by state and students who couldn’t and still may not return home are required to take additional steps while attempting to vote. A lot of students find it very difficult because it needs to be done a long time in advance. 20 out of 50 states require one to have a legit excuse to get an absentee ballot. For example, the state of Delaware requires voters a section of the form notarized. In Ohio, if the voter’s envelope is not postmarked and at the board of elections within 10 days of the election, it may be discarded.

Residency laws 

The last major obstacle college students face while attempting to vote is showing proof of residency. States require voters to be residents before casting their ballots and each state has different requirements. Some states will suggest students wouldn’t have this if they were living in a dorm. Others require an ID with an address which makes it difficult for students that have their hometown instead of college residence on it. Lastly, access to polling places is an issue. In or near colleges, as well as low-income areas, polling stations have shut down. Therefore, students with no reliable transportation have to travel longer distances. Across the country, there are a number of bills since the 2018 midterm elections laws have passed strengthening the obstacles college students face while attempting to vote. The states where college students are more vulnerable to voter suppression have a majority of Republican lawmakers. Critics believe that these laws are to disenfranchise voters that are left-leaning because the younger generations tend to be progressive. Republicans have been taking notice and right-leaning lawmakers are intimidated. To specify some examples, Texas, Tennessee, Arizona, Iowa, North Dakota, Ohio, and South Carolina college ID cards are not allowed as eligible identification at polling places.

In the 2020 general election, the youth voter for those between ages 18-29, increased by 11 points (39%) from 2016. The research shows that the youth vote played a major role in congressional elections in battleground states. Afterward, at least 19 states enacted restrictions on voting access. These laws will affect hundreds of state and local elections this upcoming November. More than 425 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states out of 50 states in last year’s legislative sessions. The 33 laws enacted in 2021 have impacted voting by the following but are not limited to making mail and early voting harder, imposing stricter ID laws, and increasing chances of a voting purge.

The obstacles college students face while attempting to vote can make it very frustrating to the point where one may feel discouraged. Thankfully there are ways to help students and the youth, in general, defy the odds stacked against and participate in upcoming elections. The obstacles that college students face while attempting to vote can be softened thanks to universities’ compliance with the federal Higher Education Act (HEA). The HEA requires colleges and universities to make what’s called a “good faith effort” to distribute voter registration materials to those that are enrolled. In addition to that advocacy groups and institutions are getting involved to increase voter turnout amongst college students nationwide. Studies prove that having a concrete plan significantly increases the chances of voting. The obstacles college students face while attempting to vote can be overcome with the following:

  • Students getting knowledge of where and when to vote and what to bring.
  • Making it public knowledge about voter ID requirements and helping students obtain all appropriate materials.
  • Having mock polling events with sample ballots and voting machines on campuses. These events help inform new voters about meeting necessary requirements and filling out the ballots.

Nextgen America is an organization that works to empower young voters to participate in politics. Nextgen America has managed to get 1.4 million young people to vote. In the 2020 election cycle, Nextgen was able to reach 10.5 million young voters and 4.6 million of them went to the polls. This led to the largest youth voter turnout in history. Nextgen spent over $23 million to reach young voters through digital ads, informative ballot guides, and millions of conversations through texting and calls.

The All IN Campus Democracy is an organization that empowers colleges and universities to achieve excellence in nonpartisan student democratic engagement. The organization has an award program the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge. It recognizes colleges and universities for their commitment to increasing voter turnout among college students. The AICD challenge encourages the institutions to develop habits of active and informed citizenship and make democratic participation a priority on campus.

Young people have a lot of voting power, and the obstacles college students face while attempting to vote are definitely strengthening but no hope shall be lost. Especially in states that place restrictions on student voting, institutional leaders must prioritize helping students attempting to vote by working alongside state and local officials. According to the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education finds that voting rates are heavily compounded by how campuses get involved with students’ political engagement. So, the faculty at these institutions should orchestrate opportunities in and out of the classroom. Lastly, the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) investigates college student voting rates and designs strategies to increase political engagement among this demographic. Providing a database, the NSLVE gives insight into student electoral participation. With access to this kind of data, college and university administrators can measure progress in reaching political representation and equality with every student.

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