Project Seeks to Help Students Overcome Barriers to Voting

February 09, 2012

A national advocacy organization that focuses on increasing voter registration for underrepresented groups announced on Wednesday a campaign to spur student participation in elections and to help students overcome voting barriers.

The Fair Elections Legal Network kicked off its campaign, the Campus Vote Project, at George Washington University's Law School. At the event, members of an advisory board on student voting met to talk about ways to create campuswide policies and programs that make voting more accessible for students.

"Voting is a universal right," said Victor Sánchez, president of the United States Student Association and member of the advisory board. "With help and guidance, there should be better ways to help go about increasing access to voter registration and increasing voters on campus."

College students, the majority of whom are 18 to 29 years old, comprise a fair share of the electorate—nearly a quarter of eligible voters this year, according to a statement by the Fair Elections Legal Network. But only 22.8 percent of eligible voters under 30 voted in 2010, compared with 40.8 percent of all eligible voters casting ballots.

College students, in particular, face unique challenges when attending institutions away from home, such as meeting proof-of-residency requirements, not knowing about voter-registration rules and deadlines, not having acceptable ID's to vote, confusion about voting locations, and lack of transportation to polls.

The board discussed some remedies to those problems. Suggestions included establishing election-awareness campaigns, creating college voting Web sites to provide better information, offering polling stations on campuses, and even starting rewards programs to draw more students to register.

"We have to re-energize schools and get them to be creative," said Robert Newsome, director of outreach and state relations at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and a member of the advisory board. "We want to get everyone involved."

Josh Young, director of Miami Dade College's Center for Community Involvement who also sits on the board, said his campus is using "signage in high flow areas and campaigns every year where students, faculty, and staff walk together to vote early."

Mr. Newsome added that while using varied approaches is helpful, colleges should look at individual needs to customize their student-voter programs.

"We should allow the mission of the school to drive what they do," Mr. Newsome said. "They need to find a way to do it that's going to resonate on their campuses. We want to have schools look at our menu and see examples and say, 'OK, we can do that.'"

Several students from the audience were eager to try the approaches, asking questions such as, "How can we start using this for our campaign?" and "How do we approach administrators about doing it?"