There are many ways #voting is troublesome for students. Some are the result of societal trends, some the nature of college itself and some are issues with the daily obligations of students themselves.
Societally, the student experience has changed in many ways. There are fewer “traditional” students – the 18-23 or so year olds who live on campus and spend a continuous 4 years enroute to a bachelor’s.
For the non-traditional students, they may be fitting in classes as part of a busy adult life that often includes a family and work, sometimes at multiple jobs. For them, their studies are an additional compression on time that makes it even harder to find time to vote. Consolidating early voting locations and hours tends to disenfranchise them more.
For traditional students, other societal changes can make a difference.
For example, in some places you must paper mail requests to vote absentee. I realized a few years ago that many of my students have never addressed a letter or bought stamps, It’s not uncommon now for students to not learn to drive while in high school, particularly if they come from places with good transit. They don’t always have state-issued ID, and their student ID is sometimes not acceptable in places that require it.
We’ve studied it, and lack of information hurts two ways for student voters. First, civics education is lacking in many places and some students tell us they don’t know how to register or how to vote absentee, or they realize too late to make arrangement.
This can feel like an ignorance is not an excuse kind of thing, and I realize that. And there are some strong efforts, both on campuses and from civic orgs to make it as easy as possible. These efforts get complicated by changes in laws and by differences when students go to school out of state.
The second information gap is about candidates and issues. Our studies have suggested that students feel bad about voting if they are not informed about everything, and will fail to vote on that basis.
It would be easy to say “Well, get informed, then, lazy!” But consider that a ballot where I live will have not only big federal elections, but state ones. These things like Commissioner of Labor (which in NC inspects elevators, among other things). We might have 15 judicial elections and the county sheriff. These are all important, but it becomes very challenging to be informed on all this. The quality of information decreases quickly as the reach of the position shrinks. When you can find it, it’s often not focused on issues students tell us they care about. Depending on where they register, it may be positions like this in a place where students know they are living very temporarily.
Finally, packing and cracking happens for campuses, as well. Here’s an example. North Carolina’s extreme gerrymandering could save the House Republican majority
The state’s incomprehensible, constantly changing congressional districts, explained.
When you split campuses, even into different voting precincts, it’s an extra burden for students to even tell where they should vote. They often have class on election day, so if they make the effort to get off campus to the polls and go with their friend who has a car, they might end up at the wrong one. They might not have time to fix this.
Yes, our young adults need to be responsible for acts of citizenship, like we all do. But they do have some things stacked against them as far as making that happen.