Last week, as many Tech students, myself included, cast their votes in the Super Tuesday primary, I heard several other students remark how they wished they could vote but couldn’t get to their home precincts. In talking to some friends of mine who attend other schools around the state, I found that they had either heard the same thing or felt that they had the same problem.
As it turns out, very few of them realized that they could have voted absentee or even could have registered to vote using their school addresses. I told the few people that I overheard or talked to, and given that I now actually have the ability and opportunity to share this information with the entire Tech community, I felt that I was obligated to do so.
There is a lot of misinformation out there about what college students are allowed to do with regard to their voting rights. For example, I was surprised to conveniently learn, just in time to register for the midterm congressional elections, that college students are allowed to register to vote using their school addresses.
This is particularly convenient for Tech students as there is a polling place in the Student Center, which is the designated precinct for all campus residents who are registered with their campus address.
Students who wish to do this should use the address of their on-campus residence as their home address and fill out the mailing address portion of the registration form using their campus box address.
Misinformation regarding this particular aspect of student voting rights recently emerged somewhat prominently in Georgia when students at Georgia Southern University experienced intimidation when trying to vote at the school’s precinct last November.
Following a very successful voter registration drive at GSU, during which about 1,000 students registered to vote in Bulloch County, candidates for local offices took a number of legally questionable measures with the apparent intent to prevent these students from voting in local elections.
According to the National Campaign for Fair Elections, one incumbent council member attempted to take out an advertisement in Connect Statesboro, a local newspaper, stating that students who had changed their voter registration away from their parents’ addresses risked losing their financial aid and could no longer be claimed as dependents on their parents’ taxes.
Both claims are categorically false. In addition to being subject to a misinformation campaign, students who appeared to vote reported being harassed and intimidated by uniformed police officers with regard to their voter registration and residency status. Fortunately, students at Tech have not been subjected to such tactics. Should something like this ever occur, though, it is important that students know their rights.
Despite being allowed to register to vote in Fulton County, some Tech students may still prefer to remain registered in their home districts. This is fine. Most college students are in a unique position to have a choice in where they register to vote.
This does create a few problems though. The most common problem that students who remain registered in their home districts face is being able to get back to their designated polling place to vote. Requesting an absentee ballot solves this problem, but you have to remember to request it before Election Day.
Request forms can typically be found on the website of the Secretary of State for whatever state you’re registered to vote in. Georgia voters may also participate in advance voting, which occurs the Monday through Friday before Election Day at designated advance voting locations. The application to vote in advance is included on the Georgia absentee ballot application, which can be obtained at www.sos.ga.gov/Elections.
Where you register to vote is up to you. Perhaps you have a vested interest in the politics of your hometown, or you live in a “swing state” and prefer to vote there in national elections for that reason. Perhaps you prefer the convenience of being able to vote in the Student Center, even if you completely forgot that it is Election Day. The really important thing is that you vote if you’re eligible. Last Tuesday’s primary had one of the highest, if not the highest, turnouts of college-aged voters in a primary, ever.
Overall, Georgia’s primary had the highest turnout for a presidential primary since 1980, despite this being the first election in which Georgia’s requirement for a photo ID to vote has been in effect. Voters are realizing that their vote matters in this election, perhaps more than ever.
If you’re not currently registered to vote, you can register by mail using the National Mail Voter Registration Form. The form can be obtained on the Election Assistance Commission’s website at www.eac.gov/voter/Register to Vote. The form provides instructions on registering for every state and the address you need to send the registration form to.
If you are registering and voting in Georgia, you must register by the fifth Monday before a scheduled election in order to be eligible to vote in that election. Georgia also now requires that voters show an approved form of photo identification when they vote.
Here again, Tech students are lucky, because since Tech is a state school, your Buzzcard counts as a form of photo identification issued by a state entity, so you can use that if you don’t have anything else.
So given that it’s so easy for students to register to vote locally, there’s a polling place in the Student Center, there’s hardly any excuse for students who are eligible to vote to not do so. Absentee voting is nearly just as easy, and the difficulties surrounding obtaining an absentee ballot (like forgetting about it or finding the form) can be easily overcome. It would be easy for a student organization to set up an absentee ballot application drive, since all states’ applications are available online. All that’s required is a table in the Student Center a few weeks before an election, a laptop and a printer.
For many Tech students, this presidential election is the first one they are eligible to vote in. The first one I was eligible for was the 2004 election, and it was really pretty exciting to vote for president for the first time.
For that matter, it’s pretty exciting the second time, too. I’d hate for anyone to miss out on that excitement because they aren’t aware of their rights and options.