Ensuring Student Voting Rights: Recommendations to Higher Ed Leaders (Part II)
Along with the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education, we have issued another letter to presidents and other institutional leaders, building on our 2020 election season request, to use their community stature and influence to protect voting rights.
We know that higher education faces unprecedented pressures due to the pandemic, financial strains, financial and emotional challenges to students, and more, yet we’re asking higher education to add one more thing to the to-do list. We hope that campuses will view this as an opportunity. And we promise to provide support along the way.
Ensuring Student Voting Rights: Recommendations to Higher Ed Leaders
Uncertainty over voting conditions for a fast-approaching election calls for fast action. The U.S. Supreme Court
has repeatedly ruled that voting conditions are controlled by states, including a recent procedural ruling
allowing Texas to deny voters access to voting by mail and, in another case, that Wisconsin can refuse to
change voting methods even if COVID provides serious health risks. Decentralization has resulted in a morass of
inconsistent and confusing registration and voting conditions that have been exacerbated by the pandemic and
calls for changes to voting rules. Uncertainty and unnecessary inconvenience are bad for all voters, but they
uniquely affect the nation’s 20 million college and university students.
Going into the 2020 election, it is helpful to know more context. Generally, students register to vote at rates
commensurate to the general population, but too few students go on to vote. Students living on or near
campus who register there tend to vote at higher rates, but students who are registered away from campus
(e.g., at their parents’ address) turn out at lower rates. There is also evidence that students vote provisionally
more than other voters, that those provisional ballots are not only over-relied on but also disproportionately
rejected compared to other voters, and that students’ absentee or mailed-in ballots are similarly rejected at
disproportionately higher rates. Absent interventions, the removal of barriers to voting by mail, and education,
voting rates for students will be low in 2020.
The goal of this memorandum is to provide college and university leaders with the information they need to
advocate for voting laws and conditions that encourage and enable student voting, both during this pandemic
and after. We believe this crisis both demands immediate action and provides an opportunity for institutions to
advocate for increased student access to voting in the long term.
Many states are currently sorting through the threat of COVID-19 and concerns over the health and safety of
voters, poll workers, elected officials, and candidates. All states can receive federal funding to update their
election systems due to the pandemic, and many Secretaries of State or legislative commissions are hosting
hearings on prospective changes this summer. This presents an opportunity to demand reforms that make
voting easier for students, which, in turn, helps all voters. Given their prominence as leaders in states and
communities, college and university presidents can play an essential role in removing technical barriers to
voting, preventing voter confusion, and demanding recognition of students’ constitutional right to vote,
protected by the Twenty-Sixth Amendment.
This memo contains recommendations on:
Where students who attend a college or university away from their prior address, such as their parents’ address, can register to vote and vote,
Identification requirements and what institutions can do to ensure that students have the proper identification to prove residency consistent with their right to vote from campus, and
How presidents/chancellors can use their influence to promote reforms around online registration, excuse-free mail-in voting, modernizing mail-in voting systems, early voting with extended hours, convenient polling and drop box locations on campus, and voter education.
We offer descriptions and talking points for each. Some interventions are necessary due to the pandemic, and all are best practices that should continue after the pandemic ends. While this memorandum sets out reform recommendations leading up to and following the 2020 Election, it is not legal advice.
NC Campuses Urged to Update Student IDs
Fair Election Center’s Campus Vote Project, Democracy North Carolina, and Common Cause North Carolina sent the letter below updating colleges and universities about recent changes in North Carolina law that impact the ability of students to exercise their right to vote and several urgent associated deadlines. One of the forms of voter ID under a new photo ID law (SB 824) is student ID cards issued by community colleges and public and private colleges and universities in North Carolina.
The letter outlines the additional requirements institution’s must meet for their student IDs to be approved by the State Board of Elections to be used as voter ID and critical deadlines.
The State Board of Elections is supposed to produce temporary regulations to implement the approval process of student IDs as voter ID by February 1, 2019 and is supposed to approve student IDs acceptable as voter ID for the 2019 and 2020 elections on March 15, 2019.
For more information please read the letter below and if you have questions contact Campus Vote Project at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CVP Requests Veto for NC Voter ID Bill
Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project works with colleges and universities across North Carolina to empower students with information they need to register and vote. We can say unequivocally that the recently passed strict, photo voter ID S.B. 824 is bad for student voters and Governor Cooper should veto the bill.
S.B. 824 is a legislative smoke screen that on paper includes student IDs from North Carolina’s public, private, and community colleges and universities, however, it also enacts a by-institution approval process intentionally designed and implemented in ways to make sure that no institution’s student IDs will actually be approved for use as voter ID. CVP’s National Director Mike Burns noted, “North Carolina’s citizens elected a new legislature in November and current legislators should stop undermining our democracy and allow a full and considered debate in the new year on how to best implement voter ID in North Carolina. There is no rational justification for this lame duck legislature to jam through such a flawed bill and then force the State Board of Elections to certify which student IDs can be used as voter ID 600 days before the 2020 general election.”
You can read CVP’s full letter urging Gov. Cooper to veto S.B. 824
MN Colleges are Required to Provide Voter Registration Forms, but are They?
Minnesota Colleges and Universities are mandated to provide students voter registration forms, but are they? Some campuses confused by separate state mandate, despite exclusion from federal requirement.
With the fall term underway and the 2018 midterms rapidly approaching the Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project contacted colleges and universities across Minnesota this week to reminder them of the state requirement that all postsecondary institutions “provide voter registration forms to each student as early as possible in the fall quarter” and ““[i]nstitutions shall consult with their campus student government in determining the most effective means of distributing the forms and in seeking to facilitate election day registration of students…”
These requirements in Minnesota Statute §201.1611 are separate from a similar federal requirement contained in the Higher Education Act, which Minnesota is excluded from due to the fact that Minnesota allows for Election Day registration as well. Campus Vote Project participated in the Democracy in Action Summit hosted at Minneapolis College last month and heard from participants that they were not aware of their institution complying with Minnesota Statute §201.1611, and that some institutions may be confusing it with a separate federal statute that Minnesota campuses are exempt from. For example, see this post from Normandale Community College about the federal statute but failing to mention the state requirement to distribute voter registration forms – www.normandale.edu/directory/disclosures/voter-registration
“Thanks to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement we know that nearly 84% of students at Minnesota institutions that were registered to vote did so in 2016, yet Minnesota students are registered at a rate lower then that national average” said Mike Burns the National Director for Campus Vote Project. While Election Day registration is a great fail safe, it can lead to very long wait times if everyone needs to register or update their registration prior to voting, this is especially true in student-heavy precincts since they are a population that change address’ frequent. “Given all this information we knew we needed to reach colleges and universities and educate them about their duty to fulfill the civic mission of higher education and also comply with Minnesota Statute §201.1611 and assist students with voter registration.”