David, a sophomore at Ohio Wesleyan College, registered to vote at a voter registration drive hosted on campus in 2010. As Election Day approached, he realized he never received a voter registration card in the mail. He called the local elections office and found out he was not registered to vote. On his application he put down his dorm as his address. No one told him he needed to put down an actual street address in order to register to vote. This is a common mistake that occurs when students aren't provided with accurate information they need to know to become registered.
Students face this and several other unique challenges to the ballot box. These challenges include: not knowing voter registration rules and deadlines; not having acceptable ID for voter registration or voting purposes; confusion about where to vote; lack of transportation to the polls; and occasionally confronting unfriendly or unsympathetic election officials and poll workers.
These barriers lead to lower participation among young people. In 2008, 67 percent of those 30 and older turned out to vote while only 48.5 percent of those between 18 and 24 years old voted. And lawmakers this past year have made voting even more difficult for students.
Several states have pursued legislation that limit access to the polls, including restrictive photo ID requirements, placing onerous restrictions on groups holding voter registration drives, and reducing early voting options. All of these new limitations directly affect students' ability to cast a ballot by creating more barriers to participating in our elections.
The traditional barriers to the ballot, combined with these new voting restrictions that will disproportionately impact students, are why the Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN) has launched the Campus Vote Project (CVP) to work with students and college administrators -- in collaboration with local election officials -- to institutionalize best practices to promote and support student voter registration, education, and voting.
CVP will work with student partners and higher education institutions to adopt goals that are needed and achievable on campuses to encourage student voting. Central to the campaign is a toolkit (available at www.campusvoteproject.org) that includes step by step guides on many actions that can be taken, ranging from how to hold an election awareness campaign, to integrating voter information into a school's website, to making sure students have the right voter ID and moving polling places onto campus.
Already, several organizations representing students and college administrators, as well as groups focusing on student voting and organizing, have joined with CVP in an effort to break down barriers students face to participating in elections. These organizations include the United States Student Association, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, Black Youth Vote, the National Education Association, and many others.
These organizations will help CVP promote actions that will reach hundreds of thousands of students across the country to overcome obstacles to the ballot. For example, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, is committed to working with its 400 member colleges and universities that represent two-thirds of Hispanic higher education students across the country to institute policies that will provide the information and accessibility students need to vote.
Already, some colleges and universities have incorporated civic engagement as part of their educational mission. Miami Dade Community College, the largest community college in the country, is working with students and faculty to promote participation by posting voting information in heavy traffic areas of campus as well as sponsoring a walk to early voting locations near campus for students, faculty, and staff to vote, to support those that may be intimidated by, or unsure of, the voting process.
Election officials also have played a role in helping students get the information they need to vote. In 2010, former Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner worked with the Ohio Board of Regents to ask state college presidents in Ohio to issue official documents to students with their name and current address. Under Ohio law, students can use these documents as voter ID on Election Day.
Sheri Iachetta Owen, general registrar for the City of Charlottesville in Virginia, home of the University of Virginia, worked with the post office to give the dormitories a street address to assist students with registering to vote. Often, students' registration forms are denied because students list their dorm as their address. Voter registration forms must contain a street address to be accepted.
Our democracy works best when everyone participates. We have a special obligation to young people to encourage them to participate in the most fundamental pillar of our democracy.
As the November election approaches, it is critical that students, college administrators, and election officials work together to create lasting changes on college campuses that will provide students the information and accessibility they need to take an active role as citizens. Campus Vote Project, with its partners, will bring changes to campuses across the country to get students voting information they need, help them register, and increase their voting participation.
For more information about Campus Vote Project, visit www.campusvoteproject.org.