Every four years, volunteers swarm university campuses, clipboards in hand, to register newly eligible voters for what is generally the only presidential election of their undergraduate careers. This year they found large numbers were already registered.
Dozens of colleges have begun their own voting registration drives in orientation programs, class registration, intranet Web sites and other interactions crucial to campus life, institutionalizing services that had often been left to outside efforts. As a result, thousands of students registered to vote, updated their addresses or requested absentee ballots from their home states within days of arriving to campus this fall, officials at several universities said.
University-sponsored attempts to make voting easier for students are being tested in at least 60 colleges across the country amid the outbreak of battles over new voting laws.
“The voter registration process has become more cumbersome and difficult as there’s been a competition to define who is eligible to vote,” said Dan A. Lewis, director of Northwestern University’s Center for Civic Engagement, which started incorporating voter registration into its freshman orientation last year. “You almost have to have a Ph.D. now to figure out how to do it if you’re not sitting in the same house for the past 20 years.”