In several states, including Missouri, it's going to be harder for college students to vote this year. Some state legislatures have passed new voter identification laws that ban the use of college IDs, creating a significant obstacle for young people.
While I ordinarily advocate for letting young adults figure out how to take care of adult responsibilities, like voting, by themselves, students may require a parental assist in completing their civic duty this year. At the very least, parents should start looking up the rules now and talking to their college-age children about a voting plan, especially for those who attend college out of state.
Four years ago, during the last midterm election season, I was teaching a writing course to first-year students at Washington University in St. Louis. I was shocked to learn how difficult it is for many college students to cast a ballot.
I knew that for most of them, it would be their first opportunity to vote in a national election. I also knew that establishing a voting pattern early on helps cement a lifelong voting habit. So I issued a challenge: Let's reach 100% voter participation in our classroom.
I encouraged them to check their registration status online, and to find out the procedure for absentee voting if they planned to vote in another state. I checked in with the class periodically to ask how their voting plans were going. Students shared challenges about requested absentee ballots not arriving for many weeks, and not being sure how far in advance they would need to mail them back to ensure they were counted.
One parent had to physically drive to an election board in California, pick up an absentee ballot and send it via FedEx to her child to make sure it arrived in enough time to mail back. At the time, I was surprised that a parent would go to such lengths, but now that I find myself in a similar situation, I'm also willing to take extraordinary measures to protect my child's right to vote.
My daughter attends a university in Texas, but she is a resident of Missouri and registered to vote here. In order to vote absentee, she would need to fill out a form requesting an absentee ballot and note the reason why she was doing so. Since sending mail to university addresses can be unreliable, she would request to have the ballot mailed to our home address. I would then mail it to her, and would likely need to include postage. She would fill out and sign the ballot -- which would then need to be signed on the envelope, in front of a notary, before being mailed back.
There are many points at which this system could break down -- especially if the mail is delayed at any step along the way.
Her other option would be to register to vote in Texas. Texas, like Missouri, no longer allows identification issued by universities to be used to vote, despite the fact that the schools verify each student's identity beforehand. So she would need to find a way to get a new Texas-issued ID. She lives on campus and does not have a car. Further complicating the situation, getting a Texas-issued ID would immediately invalidate her Missouri driver's license, which she needs to drive when she is home. Plus, she doesn't have her original birth certificate or Social Security card there with her.
I spent two full days trying to figure out the simplest way she could vote in the upcoming election. I even checked how much it would cost to fly her back home during the voting window. That would be around $500 -- well outside my budget.
It looks like her best option will be to register to vote in Texas. I sent her the address for the county election board and told her to take an Uber. I plan to see her before November, so I can give her her passport, which she can use to vote in Texas without invalidating her Missouri driver's license.
It should not be this difficult for an American citizen to exercise their basic, fundamental right to vote.
Given that the youth vote hit an all-time high in the 2020 election and that their support for President Joe Biden was a decisive factor in key races throughout the country, I can see why Republican-controlled legislatures would want to suppress their votes.
Like I told my students, there's a reason elected officials make it so difficult for you to make your voices heard.
Don't let them stop you.