Students expected to face hurdles at polls

by masonvotes via flickr

by masonvotes via flickr

Sept. 25 2008

WASHINGTON – For years one of the greatest challenges for Democratics has been to persuade young people- who they consider key supporters- to show up at the polls on Election Day. Now, Democratic members of Congress and student rights groups are teaming up to make sure young people who do show up are able to cast their vote and have their ballots counted.

Students will encounter “disproportionate access barriers” to the polls this November and should know their rights in advance, said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the House majority leader, at a press conference Wednesday outside the U.S. Capitol.

Hoyer was joined by several congressional colleagues, including Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who said that differing voter registration laws across the country make voting confusing for students who attend college outside their home states.

“We should be making it easier for students,” Schakowsky said. “Their impact on Election Day will only be felt if they’re allowed to vote.”

Former presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, urged students to cast absentee ballots in advance to avoid long lines at polling stations and to “find out if there are going to be any barriers” ahead of time.

Kucinich noted that some in his home state were concerned that voters whose homes were in foreclosure would be turned away the polls because they would no longer be considered residents.

Schakowsky said she had heard of students being told that their parents would no longer be able to claim them as a dependent for tax purposes if they voted outside their home district.

“That’s one of the lies,” Schakowsky said.

Connecticut is not one of the states that organizers of the press conference, which included the Student Association for Voter Empowerment and People for the American Way, were particularly concerned about. But officials and students at Connecticut College said they would make sure students were well-informed going into what is, for many of them, their first presidential election.

The New London college and the local voting registrar have a “good working relationship,” said Tracee Reiser, associate dean for community learning at Connecticut College. She said that her department is working with campus political groups to organize voter registration drives and information sessions on and off campus, and that the college would be running vans from residence halls to the polls from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Matthews Fairman, a 21-year-old senior who volunteers for the registration drives as a member of the Connecticut College Democrats, said his group encourages out-of-state students to register in New London, given the closeness of the 2006 congressional election, which Democrat Joe Courtney won by fewer than a hundred votes.

Still, Fairman expressed disappointment that the college has no Republican student group this year, which he said made political debates on campus “kind of lopsided.”

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