The day pro-life protesters swarmed Tech Green, I took it upon myself to run away from them and on to the other side of the field where student organizations were celebrating Atlanta Pride. Among the festivities, there was one booth with the documentation required to apply for an absentee ballot.
Although I have the pleasure of living in Fulton County these days, I am registered in a different county in Georgia. I was assured that this would not interfere with the acceptance of my absentee ballot, and so I got to work filling out my applications for the midterm election and the special election in December. As I wrote my full name and address, my friend and the person running the booth had a heated conversation about how (a) Nevada is a battleground state like Georgia, (b) how she should vote there since she is from Nevada and (c) that she cannot vote there because she is seventeen.
A few signatures and a driver’s license number later, I left with a few QR codes to check the status of my ballot and a rainbow sticker with a cat on it. All in all, a successful day. That was until three weeks went by and I still hadn’t received my absentee ballot. I knew that something went wrong along the way, as there was no record that I had even requested a ballot. Tech has a polling location on campus, a rarity for college campuses. However, I could not vote at the Ferst Center and trade my voter sticker for a Ben & Jerry’s scoop outside the Flag Building, since only Fulton County voters could cast a ballot there. That left a few options.
The closest early voting location that I could vote at is a thirty-minute drive from campus. So, I could pay for an hour’s worth of Ubers to vote, which would run me about $50. Not ideal for a broke college student. Option two is to take MARTA and then Uber. Not free. Option three is to go home for the weekend, borrow my parents’ car and go vote. It is one of the more costly options in terms of time, but overall the cheapest.
Unfortunately, that is not an option for students who are from out-of-state, like over half of Tech students are. Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., spoke about such barriers in an interview with the Technique.
“I think, you know, the demands of college: exams, classes and so on, they occupy people’s minds,” Baker said.
He also attributed the low voter turnout of college students to systemic barriers, including lack of polling place on and near campus, lack of civics education and in some cases, drawing of congressional districts to deliberately reduce the electoral impact of college students.
“There are large universities with lots of students and a hostile legislature could draw lines to minimize the impact of the student vote,” Baker said.
He commented on how politicians do not tend to count on the student vote as a means of winning, given its reputation of instability.
“Politicians have always been suspicious of student voting and give it a lot of lip service. They don’t like unpredictability,” Baker said. This is in sharp contrast with senior citizen voting, which is extremely reliable and aggressively courted by political candidates.
Ultimately, any voter is influenced by current issues, party schema and the candidates running. Baker noted that it is difficult to know what issues will push students to vote. When politicians do not care if students vote and when the system fails students time and time again, it is difficult to want to vote. But as midterms pass us by and the special election approaches this December, find a reason to vote in spite of it all. If we don’t, the senior citizens will vote anyway, and we’ll have political policies that appeal to 80 year-olds, not 18 year-olds.