Making Democracy Work: College students and the vote – how, where and...

Making Democracy Work: College students and the vote – how, where and why

Students holding buttons at voter registration

By Judie Gorenstein

New York ranked 41 out of 50 states in voter turnout in 2016 and 49 out of 50 in the 2014 off-year election. Of all eligible New York voters, only 28.2 percent voted in 2014. When you look at the youngest age group, those between 18 and 25 years old, the turnout is even lower. And nationally in 2016, 70 percent of those over 70 years old voted. By contrast, only 43 percent of those under 25 did.

As Election Day approaches, students who leave for college will ask how and where they should register and vote. Although a Supreme Court decision in 1979 gave all students the right to vote where they attend college, election law is a state’s right. Each state thus has its own laws regarding voting, including registration deadlines, residency and identification requirements (ID) at the polls. 

In New York State, any citizen not in jail for a felony conviction can register to vote in the year they turn 18. To vote this year they must be registered by Oct. 12 and be 18 by Nov. 6, the date of the 2018 General Election. 

Even if a college student is living in another state or another New York county, they can ALWAYS vote absentee in their home district, which is a two-step process. They first need to complete an absentee ballot application and mail or deliver it to their county Board of Elections by Oct. 30. (The application form can be downloaded from NY BOE at http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/download/voting/AbsenteeBallot-English.pdf and is available at libraries, post offices and the BOE.) 

The BOE will mail the actual ballot to the student, who must return it to the BOE postmarked by Nov 5. As long as the ballot was correctly completed and received by the BOE no later than 7 days after Election Day, the vote will be counted. Absentee ballots matter … they can change an election’s outcome.  

Frequently college students decide to register and vote where they are attending college. They feel it is important to get connected and have a voice on the issues in their new community and in the state where they may be living for four plus years. The Supreme Court may have given college students the right to vote where they go to college, but students are NOT ALWAYS ABLE to vote there. Some states have put up barriers to out-of-state students through their ID and residency requirements.  

Although New York in most cases does not require any voter ID at the polls, 34 states do so, with 17 states requiring photo ID. In Pennsylvania a college photo ID is sufficient while in other states it is not. In Texas a state-issued driver’s license or handgun license is accepted but not a college ID.  

Election laws can change. New Hampshire has just tightened its voter residency requirements, making it necessary for a student to register his or her car in New Hampshire and obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license. Students who want to vote at their college address should access that state’s most current requirements at www.campusvoteproject.org/ for election law and registration deadline information. “Your Right to Vote in New York State for College Students” is also available from LWVNYS at http://www.lwvny.org/advocacy/vote/RTVCollegeStudents.pdf 

In this time of student activism, those interested in a political career should strongly consider voting absentee; the residency requirement for a New York State candidate is living in the state or district for five years prior to being able to get on the ballot. But whether students decide to register and vote absentee in New York or in their college community, it is important that they learn about the issues and the candidates on their ballot, and VOTE. Our democracy works best when everyone participates.

Judie Gorenstein is vice president for voter services of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

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