Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Safeguarding against Voter Disenfranchisement: Voting Rights Advocates Are Examining Voting Infrastructure and Laws in Anticipation of High Young Voter Turnout in November

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Safeguarding against Voter Disenfranchisement: Voting Rights Advocates Are Examining Voting Infrastructure and Laws in Anticipation of High Young Voter Turnout in November

Article excerpt

Four years ago students at Kenyon College in Ohio who wanted to vote in the presidential election had to wait in line up to 10 hours. Their precinct had two voting machines--one was broken--to serve more than 1,300 registered voters.

Before the 2004 election, voter participation among students had steadily declined in the years following 1972 when 18-year-olds first won the right to vote.

Flash forward to 2008. The youth vote has risen in the past three consecutive elections, and there are no signs that it will slow down, voting advocates say.

This year's historic election is creating even more of a groundswell of excitement, particularly among this demographic. Activists say young voter turnout increased 70 percent during the primary season over what was seen in the 2004 general election.

But many of the problems students experienced four years ago in Ohio and across the country have yet to be fixed and may prove worse this November when even more new and young voters head to the polls.

Voting infrastructure, such as machines, outdated voter rolls and the number of qualified poll workers, has not kept pace with the rising number of students who want to participate in the electoral process, said Sujatha Jahagirdar, program director at the Student Public Interest Research Group's New Voters Project. "Several barriers persist," Jahagirdar said during her testimony before a congressional panel in September.

Add to that the likelihood many voters, including students, will have their rights challenged at precincts on Election Day, and there will be a mixture for long lines and disenfranchisement that will be nearly impossible to correct before election results are tabulated.

Jahagirdar said restrictive photo identification laws pose the biggest threat to young voters.

Nationally, almost one in five students do not possess the required state-issued identification, according to the Student Association for Voter Empowerment, or SAVE, a national nonprofit that seeks to protect youth voters and promote civic engagement among this same demographic.

"This hits out-of-state students particularly hard," says Matthew Segal, who helped found SAVE after the 2004 election when he watched his fellow Kenyon College students and others turned away from long lines caused by too few voting machines.

"If I have a Georgia driver's license, but I attend Ohio State University, they won't let me use my Georgia ID, even though I have the legal right to vote in Ohio because I've lived there for more than 30 days and I contribute to the tax base there"

This problem is exacerbated, advocates say, by misleading information campaigns that tell students they could lose crucial financial aid or negatively impact their parents' tax status by registering to vote at school.

Just last month, election administrators in Blacksburg, Va.--home to Virginia Tech--released erroneous guidelines suggesting that student voters could lose their scholarships or coverage under their parents' car and health insurance by registering to vote at school. …

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