posted on: Thursday October 3, 2019
by Julia McCoy ’22
Sept. 24 is National Voter Registration Day in the United States, a day to encourage citizens, and especially young people, to register to vote.
Though it is not necessarily intended to, this day tends to focus on college students and campuses more than anywhere else. Endorsed by organizations on campus such as Student Congress, a booth was set up in the Slavin Atrium to encourage voter registration across campus.
While this event and other reminders to register are fantastic, they do not necessarily lead to any change. Providence College, as well as all institutions across the United States, should continue this advocacy as actual elections approach.
Voter registration is a key step in preparing to exercise civic duty, but it is simply not enough to make an impact. The statistics, in fact, have proven that higher registration rates do not correlate with higher voter turnout, especially among students.
For example, approximately 75 percent of students on PC’s campus are registered to vote. This is a relatively high number, due in part to those events sponsored by campus organizations. However, in the 2018 elections, only 26.6 percent of PC students participated in the election. While this is relatively higher than the turnout in 2014—coming in at only around 15 percent—it still pales in comparison to the national average of 39 percent across college campuses.
The dismal numbers that come from PC are discouraging and should be changed. The question is, what are the causes of this small turnout?
One thing to consider is distance. Oftentimes, students will be discouraged from voting due to the arduous application processes for absentee ballots. Students often struggle with various loopholes that include strict “no mistake” policies or rules that prevent students from participating in absentee voting unless they have already voted once in their registered town.
Another option is to register in Providence and participate in the city’s elections. This often creates controversy within college towns as students can make up a large percent of voters in that town. While this is not necessarily significant in presidential elections, city council elections would certainly feel the pressure of a student-run electoral force more than anyone else.
When done successfully, either option engenders an easier path towards voting access. Students would have the option to send in their vote or cast their ballots on or around campus. These accessibility options could drastically increase our productivity as a school.
The College is required to make a “good faith effort” towards registering students to vote, according to the Higher Education Act. Unfortunately, that is as far as the mandate requires. As such, the College has no obligation to encourage voter activity and elections are not broadcasted as well as they could be.
The Higher Education Act is a phenomenal start towards the progress that this country needs in terms of elections. Historically, elections have been determined by those older than 65. These citizens tend to be much more active than any other age group. This act is a first step in the right direction in increasing voter turnout.
PC certainly provides that good faith effort towards voter registration that they are mandated to put forth. The student body is in great hands here, as organizations such as Student Congress and both the Providence College Democrats and Republicans take strides toward voter encouragement every year. Thus, if the Higher Education Act were expanded to recommend that the same “good faith effort” was applied to the actual civic duty of voting, the College would certainly perform quite well.
Another issue with college student apathy toward voting is the sentiment that midterm elections are not important. Regardless of the election type, students should constantly be reminded of upcoming election dates. Midterm elections have had historically bad voter turnouts because they are seen as inconsequential. Turning a blind eye to these crucial elections is almost worse than abstaining from a presidential election.
A president is nothing without his Congress. The media often draws much more attention to presidential elections, and rightfully so, due to their national impact. However, congressional elections can swing the House of Representatives or Senate to lean for or against the president’s party, which has an incredible impact on the progress of legislation.
If the College, or even universities across America as a whole, take it upon themselves to encourage voting as much as they do registration, the country will benefit. Voter turnout will increase across the board, and elections will become much more representative of the country’s entire population. And it starts on each individual campus.