While universities navigate the return to campus, students wonder how the virus will impact their ability to participate in the general election. Participation is already significantly low for college-aged individuals, and fear of Corona virus combined with confusion about the mail-in ballot process and postal delays could worsen it.
Morgan, 20, currently attends Delaware State University but is from Riley, North Carolina. Morgan originally intended to attend Morgan is especially interested in voting in the presidential election in November. North Carolina held their primary elections on March 3rd, and Morgan was able to vote in person. She attributes this to the primary taking place just before the first wave of closures due to Corona virus. The presidential election is on November 3rd, 2020, and now Morgan is nervous about the prospect of voting in person, but also nervous about the security of mail-in ballots. “It’s hard to know what to do,” Morgan said. “I want to be counted; I know how important it is; especially this year.”
Significant student displacement is also a concern this year. This matters because states require students to maintain residency to vote. While many students returned home after colleges and universities closed in March to mitigate the spread of corona virus, some stayed behind in off-campus student housing and apartments to maintain jobs and internships. With many employers opting for limited contact models and some closing altogether, some of those students have ended up in less permanent housing situations. Without money from jobs to maintain housing, some students face a particular dilemma when it comes to absentee ballot qualifications. Some states require students to have a utility bill in their name or current state-issued identification as proof of residency.
Many students, who would have qualified to vote in person in the state of Delaware using information from their previous off-campus residence in the past, may no longer have that capability. These students require the ability to vote by absentee or mail-in ballots.
Some organizations have recognized the hurdles college students face with voting away from home during a global pandemic. Organizations like Bestcolleges.com and Rock the Vote have put together several resources to help college students understand both the absentee voting process by state and the things to consider when voting in person if they qualify. Resources include registration guides, links to state-specific forms, frequently asked questions, and safety guidelines for social distancing while voting in person.
Brittany, 21, says she’s planning to submit her first absentee ballot this year. “I didn’t know where to start so I just started looking online and finding information. I thought it would be a lot of work but it’s not so bad.” When asked if she was concerned about her ballot being received in time she said, “I’m just going to do my part and hope for the best.”