College students often have to use the U.S. Postal Service to vote, since they don’t live where they are registered. This requires them to mail their absentee ballots to a different location. But this is not happening as often as it should.
A recent focus group in Fairfax County, Virginia has found that a large number of college students who have received an absentee ballot failed to send it back in because they didn’t know where to buy a U.S. Postal Service stamp.
Lisa Connors is with the Fairfax County Office of Public Affairs, the agency which sponsored the focus group. She said:
“One thing that came up, which I had heard from my own kids but I thought they were just nerdy, was that the students will go through the process of applying for a mail-in absentee ballot, they will fill out the ballot, and then, they don’t know where to get stamps.”
“That seems to be like a hump that they can’t get across.”
The focus group included college interns from many different county departments.
“They all agreed that they knew lots of people who did not send in their ballots because it was too much of a hassle or they didn’t know where to get a stamp,” Connors said.
“Across the board, they were all nodding and had a very spirited conversation about ‘Oh yeah, I know so many people who didn’t send theirs in because they didn’t have a stamp.’”
Students are able to change their voter registration location to the college location only if they get a new driver’s license or fill out a new voter registration application on campus.
After the surprising focus group results, Fairfax County is now encouraging students to vote in-person absentee while visiting their homes during fall breaks.
Kate Hanley, Fairfax County Electoral Board secretary, said:
“We’re really working on information to get the college students to be able to actually vote where they’re registered and vote absentee because it’s very confusing and it has a lot of pieces that can sort of go wrong in the middle of it.”
Younger voters generally have very low turnout rates in midterm elections, and this latest information is not encouraging for those who want to increase those rates. For a generation raised with electronic devices and instant communications using “snail mail” is obviously a foreign concept. Perhaps some better way needs to be developed to overcome this challenge.
Either that, or maybe college students could be taught where to buy postage stamps.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.