Voting amid the pandemic will be a challenge for college students who registered to vote on campus, but now find themselves taking classes online in another county or state.
“Students face barriers to voting in a normal election year, and those barriers have increased this year,” said Rachel Weber, press secretary for the North Carolina chapter of NextGen America, a voter registration program that focuses on young adults.
“Students across the state are in totally different situations. Maybe they are on their college campuses and they are registering to vote [there]. Maybe they went back home and have to update their registration. Maybe they are voting by mail or are trying to vote in person.”
Emily Sears, a student and the Civic Engagement Fellow at Queens University, is working to alleviate confusion. Sears is particularly concerned about students who returned to their hometowns and expect to vote there.
“Your registration must be changed to reflect your current physical address before you can vote in your hometown,” Sears pointed out.
There is also still time for those students to ask for an absentee ballot from the county of their college campus.
All Queens students are taking classes online this semester. The same is true for Johnson C. Smith University. UNC Charlotte also is online, but it plans to return some students to campus for a limited number of programs on Oct. 1.
Across the state, some of North Carolina’s largest universities are also holding classes online. They include UNC Chapel Hill, NC State University and East Carolina University.
Early in the pandemic, voter registration in the state declined among people ages 18-35, Weber said. Over the summer, however, registrations rebounded. In July, those registrations totaled more than 31,000. In August, registrations hit 45,000.
Weber said she did not know how many college students were among those registrations. But a recent report on college-age voters from Tufts University indicates that registrations for voters ages 18-24 are up in North Carolina.
By August, North Carolina was among eight states that had registered more voters in that age group than it did for either the 2016 or 2018 elections, according to Tufts’ Center for Information & Research and Engagement on Civic Learning.
Students have three options if they are registered in the county of their university campus but now live elsewhere:
- Request an absentee ballot through the NC Board of Elections website. The official deadline is Oct. 27, but Mecklenburg’s board of elections advises that you do this by no later than mid-October to ensure your ballot can be returned in time to be counted.
- Submit a change of registration form, also available on the state board of elections website. The deadline to make this request is Oct. 9. Doing this should allow you to vote where you now live.
- Travel to the county of your university campus and cast your vote, either on Nov. 3, Election Day, or during Early Voting (Oct. 15-31). Mecklenburg is adding more early voting locations this year to help with social distancing.
Unsure of where you are registered to vote? You can check here. Haven’t registered? The deadline is Oct. 9. You can register by mail (postmarked no later than Oct. 9). The form to fill out is on the state board of elections website.
Sears, 21, is a Queens senior and political science major taking classes online from her home in Waynesville. She intends to join her father at the polls in voting there.
“I think that the pandemic has brought the issue of voting to the forefront of everyone’s mind, but particularly for college students,” Sears said. “It is my sincere hope that people my age realize just how much of their lives are tied to the policies that are being enacted by our elected officials.”
In an effort to get out the vote, NextGen NC funds nearly 50 student fellows on NC campuses. UNC Charlotte and Central Piedmont Community College each have a fellow providing information about voter registration and the election.
Sears advises Queens students to check out the elections-related activities the university intends to host. “There are going to be dozens of events this semester that students can tune into virtually that will target education, engagement, and dialogue on our campus and in Charlotte,” she said.
Students are also encouraged to follow @QU_votes on Instagram for voting information, events and to ask questions.
“Generation Z now accounts for 1 in 10 eligible voters in America, which amounts to 23 million potential voters,” Sears said. “The last few months have radically changed the trajectory of our country and world. I cannot stress this enough, our futures are on the line.”
Tellez-Duran is a student in a political reporting seminar in the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte.