The Pitfalls to Voting: Absentee Ballots
By The Executive Board
On a theoretical and practical level, students at the College know that voting is one of our most vital and contended rights. In history classes we learn about the centuries-old struggle by generations of Americans to secure the right to vote for all citizens, rather than just land-owning white males. In political science classes we learn how privileged we are to live in a democracy where going to the polls does not carry with it threats of punishment for expressing our opinions.

Despite valiant efforts by on-campus activist groups to register students to vote, a disappointing percentage of the student body did not exercise their right yesterday. There were many factors that contributed to this woeful display, from general apathy to an unpardonable lack of absentee ballots.

Bureaucratic barriers are a significant obstacle to voting, especially to most students who are not Massachusetts natives. Most states set ridiculously early deadlines to apply for an absentee ballot. If you are registered in your home state, all elections communication will arrive at your house, not your college address, so unless your parents open your mail, you will miss the notifications. There is also no easy way of communicating to the elections offices your change of address, leading to further complications even if a student had tried to rectify the situation.

Moreover, every state sets its own guidelines for absentee ballots, complicating the situation for students confused by the many rules and distinctions. For example, in Iowa, a person must register at least 40 days in advance for an absentee ballot, whereas in California, it is only a week. Not only is Iowa’s rule excessive, but the discrepancy between states makes it difficult to know when to register and many students could not vote due to the simple fault of missing an early deadline.

The actual process of receiving a ballot is similarly complicated. You need to fax or mail a paper application to the board of elections, wait for a ballot in the mail or to be delivered electronically, and finally mail it back, usually requiring extra postage. Given the time constraints, many students fail to complete these steps in time. Even more lamentably, many, through no fault of their own, did not receive a ballot due to the extensive red tape and were thus unable to participate in many highly important decisions.

Given the many hurdles to receiving an absentee ballot combined with the general apathy of college students, many simply assume their votes will not make enough of a difference back home to bother voting.

While many commonly blame young people for their political apathy, these unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles are an easy way of encouraging students to vote. Many students wanted to vote yesterday, but were thwarted by silly rules or simply by a government that never gave them their paper vote.

Young people, often under-represented in government, are in a way the people whose vote is most important because they will have to face the consequences of decisions made today. To this end, states should make the process of obtaining absentee ballots clearer and easier, and students should also take initiative to stay informed and find out about the deadlines in their states. Discouraging people to vote by red tape is in no one’s best interest.

Issue 08, Submitted 2010-11-03 02:45:27