The ‘whys’ and ‘wheres’ of college student voter turnout issues


Unless you live under a rock, or purposefully avoid all forms of media, print, social and otherwise, you’ve likely been unable to avoid the madness that is the 2020 presidential election so far.

Whether you like politics or not, it has been hard to ignore the chaos and uproar over this year’s election, and certain candidates specifically. Casting a ballot in the presidential election this coming November may seem far off, and even be something you don’t think you want to do, but voting is an American right as basic as any other.

It’s a right that’s at the very core of the American identity, “no taxation without representation” being the foremost reason for the American colonies revolting against Great Britain and ultimately winning our national independence.

It’s a right that’s been hard won by huge groups of our population; first African Americans, then women. Eligibility to vote in the United States is established both in the US Constitution and its amendments, and by state law.

It’s the most essential form of political expression and participation in our country. Background information aside, voting is an essential part of the American identity. But it can also be problematically logistically for certain segments of the population.

College students are one of the largest targets for political information, campaigning and vote pandering. But college students are also among the group least likely to vote according to a 2020 study by U. S. News. Despite the social buzz surrounding Trump and other candidates in this primary election season, early indications from national polls anticipate a low voter turnout for 18-24 year-olds in next year’s presidential election.

While this is confusing given the huge upswing in social media’s role in elections, and the millennial focus most candidates have been employing, it’s not entirely surprising. According to the US Census Bureau, young adult voters between the ages of 18-24 have consistently voted at lower rates than all other age groups in every presidential election since 1962.

On average, less than half eligible young adult voters will actually make it to the polls for a national presidential election. So what causes this? Why are college students less engaged and less likely to participate?

There are a number of factors from lack of community, to feeling like they won’t make a difference, but there are also some important technical factors. Where do college kids vote? If you register to vote when you turn 18, you’re more than likely registered in your home state. If, like a large percentage of college students, you chose to attend college out of state, the issue of voting can be tricky.

Absentee ballots, though available, require a lot of work and forethought on the part of busy, young, college students, and are often seen as more burdensome than necessary. All of this does relate back to the issue of not thinking an individual vote will matter, but the technicalities of casting a ballot in the right state, at the right voting precinct, or requesting and sending in an absentee ballot on time, make students less likely to cast a ballot then if it were a little easier, according to the same 2020 U. S. News study. One less utilized solution to the out-of-state voter difficulties is simply registering in the state where you go to college.

If you’re attending school in North Carolina, you live here enough days of the year to declare residency. And if you’re going to be here for the four years of your college career, you’ll likely see two presidential elections and several senate and local elections, making the hassle of re-registering a small price to avoid annual absentee ballots and missed voting opportunities.

More colleges and universities need to follow in High Point University’s footsteps, and actively help students register to vote on campus. Aside from just making the process easier, it can also help individuals feel more engaged if they are aligned better with the dominant party politics in their college state vs. their home state.

Students that work on local campaigns can have the opportunity to cast their ballot for a candidate they believe in and have been working for. Registering to vote in the state you attend college has a number of benefits, and streamlines an often complex voting system, making it easier all around to have your voice heard and utilize your constitutional right to be a part of election processes.

The vote of young people matters, and politicians target their views and issues to garner votes—without a voter response to policies, the candidates have little to no motivation to shift their platform to align better with this massive segment of the population. So the key to fixing voter disenfranchisement, and getting more people invested in the system, could potentially be just getting out the vote.

College campuses are politically charged environments, and they’re full of young people with passion and opinions. What better way to voice those opinions and get involved then casting a ballot, especially in a swing state like North Carolina where election outcomes are never certain.

Campus Chronicle
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