Registering to vote can be a complicated process at Elon University.
Forty-nine different states are represented on campus, with 75 percent of the student population coming from out of state, according to the university’s most recent Registrar’s Report. States have different voting laws, which could make it difficult for students to understand how to vote.
Recent North Carolina court decisions have added to the complexity by forcing counties to eliminate stringent voter ID requirements and give people the option to register and vote on the same day.
Elon Votes!, a nonpartisan campus initiative created in 2014 to help register students to vote, is seeking to simplify the process. The initiative partnered with TurboVote, a system designed to make voting easier.
“One of the beauties of TurboVote linked to the Elon Votes! site is that it allows students from any state in the union to navigate those forms and those deadlines in a very simple way. Otherwise, it can be very confusing and challenging,” said Bob Frigo, faculty adviser for Elon Votes! and associate director of the Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement.
One way to get students to vote is for them to recognize the value of their individual ballot.
Millennials — adults born after 1980 — are a critical demographic both in North Carolina and across the country. Jason Husser, assistant professor of political science and policy studies and director of the Elon Poll, said young voters could shape the political landscape for the decades to come.
“Millennials have the potential to not only shape this race but every race for the next 20 or 30 years,” Husser said. “Millennials are now the largest demographic group in the country in terms of age. Millennials are also finally coming into their own politically.”
Voter participation levels among young people are much lower than older people. The Pew Research Center reported in 2013 that the turnout rate among 18-to-24-year olds fell to 41.2 percent in 2012 from 48.5 percent in 2008.
“We do see lower participation rates among Millennials, but it’s not necessarily clear that that’s a long-term trend,” Husser said. “Young people just don’t vote as much. It’s not necessarily a Millennial thing.
“Until you have a house, until you’re paying taxes, until you’re embedded into a school system with children, you’re just not as planted in a place, and when you’re not as planted, you’re less likely to vote.”
Today, Millennials represent about a quarter of the entire electorate. By 2020, Pew estimates they will be 36.5 percent, and gradually become more invested in the political process.
2016 has proven to be a highly polarizing election year. Senior June Shuler, coordinator for Elon Votes!, is not sure what effect this will have on voter registration.
“It could go either way,” Shuler said. “I think it could really promote people to go out and say, ‘I need to make a decision just because the two candidates are so polarized,’ but it could also make people decide that they just don’t want to get involved with it because they see both candidates as not being valid or someone that could help their interests.”
Since August, Elon Votes! has registered more than 800 students through TurboVote. Elon President Leo Lambert said these efforts help reflect the university’s commitment to engaging students in the political process.
“Part of the civic mission of Elon is to encourage our students to become informed about the issues of the day and to participate in the democratic process, and the ultimate act of that is voting,” Lambert said.
Several tables have been set up around campus in recent weeks to register voters, efforts that largely undermine Elon’s policies on political activities on campus.
“We’ve had people come onto campus, and there have been problems in the local community as well with law enforcement seeing or being told that there were groups registering people and then throwing their registrations away,” Shuler said. “Obviously, that’s something we don’t want to be happening on campus.”
Elon’s Guidelines for Voter Education or Voter Registration state, “voter registration activities to be held on campus from organizations outside of Elon University must be sponsored by a student organization or University department and be approved in advance by the University Political Activities Working Group.”
There have been multiple reports of people coming onto campus to register voters without the university’s consent and at least one instance in which a person was removed from campus.
University Police Chief Dennis Franks said the police department received one call regarding the issue. At least one person was asked to leave, and no formal charges were made and no incident report was created.
Town of Elon Police Chief Cliff Parker said his department has not had any issues with voter registration.
Jon Dooley, assistant vice president for Student Life at Elon, provided a statement addressing the problem.
“We have communicated these guidelines to individuals from outside the university attempting to register students in a manner not consistent with the guidelines,” Dooley said in the email. “In those cases, they respected the university expectations and the robust voter education and registration efforts of the university.”
On Saturday, a small group of people affiliated with the Hillary Clinton campaign registered voters in front of the Elon Community Church. Dooley said this did not violate university policy because it took place off university grounds.
Sophomore Jake Keisler was among those leading registration efforts and said the group was nonpartisan that day, registering both Democrats and Republicans.
“It’s important for us to vote because we are the future,” Keisler said. “We’re the people who are going to be experiencing all of these laws.”
Though groups may have the best intentions in mind to increase voter turnout, the university encourages students to register through TurboVote to avoid any potential instances of ballots of being thrown away.
How to vote
The first thing voters should determine is whether they’d like to vote in their home state. Those not living in North Carolina but seeking to switch states to register are encouraged to speak with their parents and their local board of elections.
Depending on the home state, there could be repercussions for switching permanent residency.
“Any student who wants to move their registration from another state to North Carolina should do so after careful consideration,” said Carrie Eaves, assistant professor of political science. “It can have some impacts because you are moving your residency legally from one state to another.”
Possible consequences could include losing local scholarships or having to purchase a new car tag in North Carolina.
Students looking to vote are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the registration process outlined above. Graphic by Stephanie Hays, design chief.
Those who decide to vote in their home states should visit elon.edu/vote and navigate through the TurboVote system for more information on registration deadlines.
For North Carolina residents, the voting process has changed in the last couple of months, most notably with the requirement to show a photo ID at the polls.
On July 29, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit unanimously struck down the state’s voter ID law. On Aug. 31, the Supreme Court denied North Carolina’s request to allow provisions of the voting rights law to go back into effect.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE) recently mailed out pamphlets to prospective voters to inform them of these changes.
“Voters will no longer be required to present photo identification at the polls,” the pamphlet read.
It also noted people will have the ability to register and vote on the same day at one-stop early voting locations within their county.
North Carolina Republican leaders, including Gov. Pat McCrory, have vigorously fought to defend the state’s voter ID laws.
“North Carolina has been denied basic voting rights already granted to more than 30 other states to protect the integrity of one person, one vote,” McCrory said in a statement shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision.
Michael Bitzer, provost and professor of political science at Catawba College, is considered an expert in the field of southern politics. He said he is registered unaffiliated and doesn’t even tell his wife how he votes.
Bitzer said it is reasonable to want to make sure people don’t vote multiple times. Still, he spoke critically of efforts to suppress certain groups, particularly minorities, from voting.
“We want people to be the ones who are legally casting votes,” Bitzer said. “I don’t think anybody could argue with that. The question becomes how much of a hurdle will you put on certain demographic groups.”
In the 2016 election, North Carolinians can vote through a mail-in absentee ballot, one-stop early voting or Election Day polling.
Absentee ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day and are accepted until 5 p.m. Nov. 14.
The regular voter registration deadline is Oct. 14. From Oct. 20 to Nov. 5, individuals may register and vote at any one-stop early voting location. Hours and locations are available here.
Polls on Election Day will open Nov. 8 at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m. Precinct locations and contact information for county elections offices are available here. Elon will offer shuttles to two local precincts from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Creating habitual voters
Voting is an important part of being involved in the political process, but it is just one of the many ways Elon Votes! is trying to engage students.
Elon Votes! has planned several events for the near future. Last Monday, a watch party for the first presidential debate attracted about 300 students. Future events include debate watch parties, an election forum featuring local candidates, an Election Night watch party and a post-election interpretation.
The Elon Politics Forum hosted a student debate Monday night and is expected to hold a second student debate later in October.
Shuler said she hopes these efforts will keep students informed about the issues at stake in local, state and national races.
“Beyond just registering students to vote and getting them excited about the election, we also want to create educated voters — voters who know why they’re going into the polls and not just because their friend told them to vote for that one candidate,” Shuler said.
The ultimate goal is for students to continue to remain active after the 2016 election season comes to an end.
“What we’re talking about right now for students is not just the election in 2016 but starting that habit of voting,” Frigo said. “If folks are starting now, that’s often a habit that will continue for a lifetime.”