“The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.” Enshrined in the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, these words established a promise between the government and its young citizens.However, even though this protection exists to ensure a lack of legal barriers, that does not mean that it is easy to vote as a college student — particularly one attending an institution outside of their home state.
I know from personal experience, as a sophomore at Goshen College from Ohio. I tried to register to vote online on three separate occasions while living here in Indiana, since I could not easily make the five-hour drive home.
At the time, I was in my first year of college and thinking about the upcoming midterm election, and I wanted to ensure that I was prepared to cast my vote. Each time, I encountered issues that I was not able to resolve.
In the end, I did not register to vote until I was 19 and home for the summer with access to my local board of elections in Holmes County. When I explained to the election officials the problems that I had experienced, one of them laughed and said, “We hear that all the time. We always tell people to just come in person to avoid the hassle.”
But therein lies the problem: voting, arguably the most crucial civil duty in a democracy, should not be a hassle, and the process of registering should not be any harder than the act itself.
Not only is registration often messy, but Voting Rights Lab also reports that “five states prohibit student IDs as acceptable forms of identification to vote.” Ohio is one of these states.
I was lucky to be in the position where getting my driver’s license was relatively easy, but as public transportation becomes more prevalent and buying a car gets more expensive, the number of young drivers goes down. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, only 59% of 18-year-olds in the U.S. had a driver’s license in 2021, a 2% drop from 2018.
This means that the only other acceptable form of ID that would be feasible for most college students is a passport, and you would need to have it at college if you want to vote absentee.
The process to get a ballot is also complex: you have to fill out a paper form, as no online version is permitted. You can either print it and mail it in, or call the board of election so that they can mail you a copy to fill out and then mail back to them.
All of these voting and registration issues are systemic across the country and can affect any out-of-state student and even in-state students who are farther from home. However, that doesn’t even take into account other more unique problems.
For me, this came in the form of having residency in an unincorporated territory, where the ZIP code of my physical address is not compatible with my mailing address.
Additionally, my technical permanent residence is my mom’s house, as she had primary custody of me when I was a minor and that is still where I live.
The issue there is that my dad is the one who took me to get my driver’s license, which functions as my voter ID, so that is the address I am registered under.
The board of elections was able to get things sorted out, but the online system could not process the information that seemed to conflict.
All that to say, many others also have complicated situations, and our current digital registration system is unable to account for that nuance.
This same nuance is what caused me to miss an election I was eligible to vote in — one that should have been my first.
As the world becomes increasingly digitized, voter registration should be evolving as well. Additionally, once registered, a student ID should be an acceptable means of identification, as it is often the only accessible one.
Whether they live in town or fly to the opposite coast for school, the voice of a college student is always important in elections, and perhaps never more so than in the upcoming presidential election.
This nation’s voter registration system and acceptable forms of ID should reflect its promised respect for the voice of the youth, and live up to the values protected in the Constitution itself.