News Release

The Rights of Students to Register and to Vote

SUJATHA JAHAGIRDAR
Jahagirdar is the program director for the New Voters Project of the Student Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). PIRG was founded 30 years ago, and the New Voters Project currently has a presence in 24 states and on 150 campuses.

She said today: “The youth vote is on the rise. … Visiting campuses and talking with student leaders across the country over the past several months, the excitement among the nation’s college and university students is palpable. However, numerous barriers to student voting persist. … [For example,] in Montgomery County, Virginia, last month, a local registrar issued a memo that warned students of dire potential consequences — the loss of healthcare, scholarships and tax status — for registering to vote where they go to school. The warnings, since discredited by the IRS and voting experts alike, created a chilling atmosphere among student voters at Virginia Tech, resulted in worried calls from parents and caused several students to withdraw their registrations in the area. … While the Virginia State Board of Elections has since withdrawn much of its confusing guidance, it retains troubling information that has the potential for student voter suppression at the local level. … Unnecessary restrictions on student voters at the local level extend to other states as well. In Greenville County, South Carolina, the registrar’s office incorrectly told students at Furman University that if they are listed as dependents on their parents’ tax returns, they must vote where their parents live.”

Jahagirdar added: “With record turnout predicted in college precincts this November, it is critical that local elections officials anticipate and plan for a surge in student voters at the polls. … Another barrier to student voting across the country is a lack of sufficient on-campus polling places. … Oftentimes, however, local registrars fail to [set up] on-campus polling places despite widespread support for it among students, faculty and administrators.”

MATTHEW SEGAL
Segal is the founder and executive director of the Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE), a national nonprofit organization founded and run by students. SAVE represents a constituency of roughly 10,000 members on over 30 college campuses across the country.

Segal said today: “Whereas long lines or deceptive flyers create a clear graphic image of college student voting barriers, perhaps the most insidious obstacles for young voters are stringent voter ID laws. SAVE signed onto the Supreme Court amicus brief against the voter ID legislation in Indiana, and we have unfortunately had hundreds of our members in Ohio affected heavily by voter ID provisions.

“According to a Rock the Vote survey, 19 percent of young adults (18-29) report they do not possess a government-issued photo ID with their current address [many live in dormitories]. As a result, young voters are forced to rely upon alternative forms of identification. The substitutions for a photo ID, however, such as utility bills, are not easily obtainable for students because colleges and universities generally pay all the bills for students who live in dormitories or on-campus apartments. We thereby estimate that literally tens if not hundreds of thousands of college students will be forced to vote provisionally this November, for which they might not even receive verification as to whether or not their ballots are counted. This, of course, lowers voter efficacy or confidence, which is devastating for any young voters. If we are going to maintain voter ID laws in general, then SAVE firmly encourages all states to recognize college and university IDs as an acceptable alternative. Ohio, among many other states, does not.”

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167