February 2, 2023
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National Recap: College students face obstacles getting to polls

As the national primary elections begin, voters across the country are focused on where and how they will be able to enter their votes. For many college students, the ability to vote is even harder with the added difficulties of mail-in ballots, registering in new states and inability to get to the polls.

For Will Newell, a student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, there are no locations on his campus that allowed him to vote in Tennessee’s primary, which took place on Super Tuesday. Newell told The Associated Press that while he is able to drive his car to the local polling location, he was worried that students who do not have the ability to drive themselves would then not be able to cast their votes. 

While students were available to provide rides, Vanderbilt itself did not organize a shuttle system for students to get to a precinct. There is currently a bill going through the Tennessee Legislature that would call for early voting locations to be present at the large colleges and universities in the state. 

In addition to hindering students’ abilities to get to the polls in Tennessee, there are other factors that lead to the state’s overall lower voter turnout. According to AP, college students cannot utilize student IDs as valid forms of identification at polling sites, but the use of handgun licenses is permitted.

This comes at a time when Democratic candidates are seeking young voters in the 2020 election. Yet students’ abilities to partake in voting has been challenging because of states like Tennessee that make voting more difficult for students. According to AP, critics say that this is designed to keep out voters who tend to lean more Democratic. 

“Republicans see that, and they’re scared,” said Matt Nowling, national director of communications for the College Democrats of America. “College Democrats have been at the forefront of fighting against these issues.” 

There are still obstacles that stand in the way of student voters. For example, in New Hampshire, there is a law that all people, including students, must obtain a form of license or registration that identifies them as a New Hampshire resident in order to vote. 

There are seven states where college ID cards are not permitted forms of identification at polling centers. In Texas and Tennessee, these rules have been set in place since Republican-dominated legislation was passed between 2008 and 2018. Meanwhile, the other five states — Arizona, Iowa, North Dakota, Ohio and South Carolina — were all added to the list after Donald Trump became president in 2016.

In addition to not being able to use student ID in Arizona, a Republican lawmaker in the state also proposed legislation that would prohibit students from using their on-campus addresses when registering to vote, according to AP. 

Rachel Clay, Southeast regional coordinator for the Campus Vote Project, said that legislation like this does not just disable students from voting but in addition “it’s creating laws that make something that’s already challenging and confusing more challenging and confusing for young people,” she told AP. 

In some states that swing Democrat, there are efforts to make voting easier. For example, in California, there is a new law that requires the attention to putting more voting centers on college campuses, as well as designating that someone on campuses acts as “civic and voter empowerment coordinator,” according to AP.

Democrats are relying on an increased voter turnout for the 2020 presidential election. According to a report done by Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy and Higher Education, the number of students that voted in the 2018 election nearly doubled in comparison to the student voter turnout in 2014.