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A nonpartisan effort to register college students to vote is taking hold in Virginia.
Monday, September 30, 2013
Student voter registration drives are too often colored by the ulterior motives of individual candidates, political parties or interest groups using them as a weapon to achieve a specific election outcome.
The results can be frustrating for voter registrars as they try to decipher chicken-scratches on paper forms collected at a college cafeteria. Students who bow to pressure to move their registration from their hometown to campus often have second thoughts, creating more hassles for themselves and registrars as they attempt to switch back.
But none of that should be an excuse for discouraging young adults from voting. They have an enormous stake in the issues being debated at the local, state and national levels. They should have a voice in economic policies that will affect the volatile job market they are entering. They already care about the tuition costs they and their families face right now. And decisions on health care and the national debt will reverberate over their lifetimes.
How, then, to engage student voters without partisan skulduggery? A solution appears to be germinating in Virginia and across the country. TurboVote, a nonprofit group based in Brooklyn, N.Y., has developed an online tool that helps students vote without steering them in any particular direction.
Roanoke College signed onto the project early on, and now Virginia21, a student advocacy group, has contracted with TurboVote to facilitate registration at 13 public colleges and universities.
In the first eight hours after the initiative launched last week, nearly 900 students registered, according to Tom Kramer, executive director of Virginia21. Virginia Tech Student Government sent a campuswide email that generated about 100 new registrations and absentee ballot requests within about three hours, said Anjelica Smith, vice president of the organization.
TurboVote’s website provides a straightforward means for students to register at their place of residence. The organization tracks state registration rules and deadlines and sends out forms and reminders via email and Twitter. The group mails absentee voting forms to students who need them, and lets others know where their polling place is located.
“The neat thing about TurboVote is that users are able to register, request an absentee ballot, and sign up for election reminders regardless of where they choose to register,” Smith said in an email. “It is an ideal solution on a college campus where we have folks from all over.”
Local registrars haven’t experienced any major problems from the registration drive. In fact, they prefer that people register to vote online, which TurboVote encourages.
Many of the flaws so visible in today’s political system have their roots in apathy. The best cure is to get young people invested in citizenship early, and the first step is to make sure they vote.
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