You are here

Beyond the News

Removing ballot bumps on college campuses

Ban lifted against Florida campus voting centers, reflecting push for student voting nationwide
University Business, September 2018
  • CREATING MORE VOTERS, BETTER CITIZENS—Student organizations, such as TX Votes at UT Austin, organize get-out-the-vote activities and engage the community in discussions about important issues.
  • POLLS A POPULAR PLACE—Lines to vote on the UT Austin campus wrapped around the building.
  • POLLS A POPULAR PLACE—For the 2016 general election, UT Austin students made signs such as this one to encourage their peers to vote in local elections.

Campuses are often hotbeds of political opinion, but students aren’t always easily able to express their views in the polls.

A greater understanding of this is reflected in a recent court ruling in Florida. It lifts a ban, in place since 2014, on early voting centers at the state’s colleges and universities.

While this decision doesn’t impose mandatory centers on campus, it allows students, community members and others to mobilize toward the creation of these sites, which are staffed by election officials.

These centers offer up to 45 days of early voting, depending on state regulations. Currently, 37 states and Washington, D.C., offer early voting centers.


SIDEBAR: Data point


Law experts are viewing this decision as a major win in the push to democratize voting for all.

“The 26th Amendment [with its prohibition of denying voting rights based on age] is a promise that has yet to be fulfilled,” says Yael Bromberg, supervising attorney and clinical teaching fellow at Georgetown Law.

“There is a lack of appreciation around the engagement of young people in democracy, particularly in considering the ways their access to the ballot is obstructed.”

There are a series of challenges facing college students during the voting process. The registration process can be difficult as some states have strict address requirements, says Zaneeta Daver, director of the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge.


SIDEBAR: Voting opportunity, front and center


Other states do not accept college IDs without pictures as proof to vote, and require driver’s licenses from the state in which the vote is cast. Often, students aren’t sure if they should be voting in the state in which they’re learning, or in the one in which they reside.

Help students vote early and often

Early voting centers on campus, typically located in student unions, offer voting opportunities to students who don’t have personal transportation, or whose schedules don’t coincide with poll timing.

“We need to be making it easier for citizens to vote, not more difficult,” says Daver. “Many college students are voting for the first time.”

Colorado, Oregon and Washington utilize an all-mail system to eliminate obstacles of voting at a physical poll. The University of Texas at Austin is adding its second early voting site as a result of student efforts.

“Students know there are central locations on campus to vote and can usually gauge how long the wait will be with just a glance,” says Kassie Barroquillo, student engagement program coordinator.

For campus administrators interested in bringing early voting centers to their institutions, making the case to local political officials is a good place to start that process.

“Early voting makes it more convenient for citizens and can, therefore, increase turnout and diversify the electorate,” says Daver. “Having a site on campus will also benefit employees and the surrounding community.”

Democracy wins

Ultimately, the Florida ruling brings attention to the mission of democracy in America, and its reality.

“This isn’t just about who votes and who wins,” says Peter Levine, associate dean at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life. “Do we welcome political engagement of college students? We should want them to be involved, no matter how they vote.”