The hardships of absentee voting in college
Over half the population of undergraduate students at Hofstra University are out-of-state residents and many are not able to vote in person at their states’ upcoming midterm elections. Absentee voting is the go-to for most students; however, the process varies from state to state, often creating confusion and presenting barriers for students wanting to vote.
“Every state gets to do voting how they want, however certain individual states have been conducting a campaign of voter suppression, particularly people who would vote Democrat,” said David Green, a political science professor.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “In 20 states, an excuse is required, while 27 states and the District of Columbia permit any qualified voter to vote absentee without offering an excuse.” Some states, such as Arkansas, Kansas, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, have stricter rules that require a copy of the voter’s ID or social security number in the application to receive a ballot. Other states necessitate that a first-time voter must vote in person; Louisiana makes an exception to the first-time rule for students, but they have to submit a copy of their student ID or fee bill with the request. Many college students are first-time voters and may not have the means to go back home to vote if they have to do it in person.
“I tried to [register] through New York but it was extremely complicated, and they were asking me for my New York driver’s license, which I don’t have. I tried several times, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it for New York, so I went home during the fall break to take care of it,” said Julia Wachtel, a sophomore television production major from Massachusetts. “If I waited any longer I wouldn’t have been able to register in Massachusetts. It was easy because I could go back home and hand it in, but if you can’t it can be difficult. Some people aren’t even voting because they don’t have the ability to or don’t know how.”
Many of these laws have been passed recently in an effort to prevent voter fraud, but they end up being another barrier for people when they are voting. An investigation conducted by the Washington Post found 31 incidents of potential voter fraud in general, primary and municipal elections from 2000 to 2014 out of over one billion votes cast. Voter fraud is not common, but the myth of widespread fraud has been perpetuated by President Donald Trump and other Republicans.
These ballots also require stamps, which most college students do not have on hand. In order to obtain the correct postage, they must go to the bookstore or find transportation to buy them from a post office or a retailer that sells them. The hassle college students experience involving the process may dissuade them from participating in the election.
“Absentee voting by itself, in my opinion, is absolutely not a method of voter suppression. The concept itself is quite the opposite. It gives voters who are not present in their municipalities a chance to vote while serving other duties. For me, that's being a college student,” said senior radio major Ben Abrams. “The trouble comes with how election boards manage absentee ballots. There have been several occasions when election boards all over the country have let either mismanagement or laziness ruin the democratic process for absentee voters.” Abrams cited a case earlier this year where the postal service did not deliver hundreds of absentee ballots meant for the November 2017 general election in Brooklyn until April. Abrams plans to drive down to his home state of Pennsylvania in attempt to avoid conflict through the process of absentee ballot voting that he had experienced previously.
Nailah Andre, a senior journalism major, is experiencing a similar problem, “I did not get my absentee ballot. I applied for it in September and the county clerk claimed they sent it Oct. 3, but I never received it,” Andre said. “It was easy to apply for the ballot, but getting in touch with the county clerk’s office when my ballot didn’t arrive was hard. I had to call five times throughout the day.”