Voter registration drives are normal features of a college campus during general election years, but efforts are not quite the same this year, reported The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
Institutions must make a good faith effort to distribute voter registration forms and make such forms widely available to students in attendance during years when there are elections for federal office, governor, or other chief executives within the state, as required by the Higher Education Act.
However, many colleges are expanding their get-out-the-vote campaigns to increase student voter turnout in the face of complex state laws and COVID-19 outbreak-related obstacles, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Students often need help overcoming voter ID requirements and guidance navigating an array of state voting rules. This year, the pandemic adds additional potential hurdles. Health experts have encouraged absentee voting, but mail-in ballots can be particularly daunting for first-time voters, according to the Chronicle.
In response, some institutions have devised new tactics and built on old ones to help ensure their students can exercise the right to vote. Many colleges and universities in Ohio, for example, provide a "zero balance" utility bill for students who live in the dorms. The bill serves no functional purpose, but the document can be used to satisfy Ohio's proof-of-residency requirements, the Chronicle reported.
In Wisconsin, state lawmakers passed a rule in 2011 stipulating that any voter ID must expire within two years, which excludes standard college IDs, as they are valid for four years. The University of Wisconsin at Madison, as well as many other institutions, responded by creating a second student ID for the sole purpose of providing a pathway for students to vote, reported the Chronicle. With the arrival of COVID-19, the university also created a version of the voter ID that students can download and print themselves without having to pick up the document on campus.
The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette
The Chronicle of Higher Education