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Students navigate absentee voter registration

Photo+courtesy+of+Harrison+Adams
Photo courtesy of Harrison Adams

Photo courtesy of Harrison Adams

Photo courtesy of Harrison Adams

Audrey Harper and Jackson Fuentes, Contributing Writers

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With the majority of the University’s population coming from out of state and out of Tuscaloosa County, most University of Alabama student voters will not be going through the typical voting processes as those living in permanent residences on election day.

Midterm Election Day, which occurs every two years, will be Nov. 6 nationwide, with constituents voting on new congressional representatives and on local laws and ordinances. Alabama residents will be voting for a new governor between two candidates: Republican Kay Ivey, Alabama’s current governor, and Democrat Walt Maddox, mayor of Tuscaloosa.  

“Of UA’s fall 2018 undergraduate students, approximately 40 percent are from the state of Alabama and approximately 58 percent are from out-of-state,” Assistant Director of Media Relations Chris Bryant said in an email.  

With so many UA students not from Tuscaloosa County or even the state, many will need to vote via an absentee ballot.

In order to vote via absentee ballot, one must be registered to vote, and there are several ways to do this. The quickest is to register online on websites like vote.org and TurboVote.org. If students are from Alabama, they can register to vote on the Alabama Secretary of State’s website.

Once students are registered to vote, they can fill out an absentee ballot application. Since it’s a nontraditional way of voting, the process can be confusing for students.

“It was a little circuitous,” said Jacob Camden, a freshman from Louisiana majoring in English and philosophy. “I went to the [Louisiana] Secretary of State’s website and clicked a bunch of links, figured it out slowly from there, printed the form out. A friend told me I could do it online, but turns out I actually just registered to vote, but I already was registered to vote. So then I had to go back. Overall I would rate the process as a little obscure. It could be worse, it could be made easier.”

Camden said students should be advised that registering to vote and filling out their request for absentee ballots are two different actions with different deadlines.

The deadline to register to vote in the state of Alabama for the 2018 midterm is Monday, Oct. 22. In Alabama, the deadline to request an absentee ballot is Nov. 1, and the deadline to send it in is Nov. 6, but different deadlines apply in different states, according to the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP).

“The way absentee ballots work in Pennsylvania is that they have this application form you have to print out and then mail to them,” said freshman international relations major Lena Johnson, a student from Pennsylvania. “I sent them that application two or three weeks ago, and it got here today. It wasn’t a hard process, it’s not super easy to fill out, and they’re not user-friendly, but it’s not that bad.”

John C. Bennett, deputy chief of staff and press secretary for Alabama Secretary of State John H. Merrill, said students have different options within the state to get absentee ballots.

“You have to go into an office or call, for the Secretary of State’s office we would send you one or you can call the absentee election manager officer in the county where you are registered to vote. There are definitely ways for people to get those forms for those without internet access, however, most students have outstanding internet access.”

Another voting option for out-of-state students is to use TurboVote, a voter registration system and a way to register for absentee ballots for free. The University has a one-year, $5,000 contract with TurboVote, ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

TurboVote is a free online voting support system available in all 50 states that allows students to quickly register to vote online by filling out a voter registration form for their home state or the state they currently live in, said Stephen Grover, a senior focusing on business, politics and social justice in the New College.

The University’s Director of Mentoring, Resilience and Citizenship Mary Lee Caldwell said TurboVote’s system serves as a one-stop resource shop for civic engagement that works to get students registered to vote and helps them apply for absentee ballots or mail ballots. TurboVote also alerts students about deadlines regarding sending and receiving absentee ballots, in addition to information about polling locations and election dates.

Grover said bringing TurboVote to campus was the byproduct of a bigger mission that began in spring of 2016. UA alumnus Dana Sweeney and the organization Vote Everywhere worked with the University to make all election mail free to receive in the Ferguson Center so long as students present their Action Cards. By the fall of 2016, the University had successfully eliminated the effective poll tax that hindered UA students who wanted to vote absentee.

“From that we saw that there was a need to even be registered in general,” Grover said. “So then we started working to try to get TurboVote here.”

Caldwell said the University pays TurboVote for both the online platform and the mailing service, which includes TurboVote’s pre-stamped envelopes, allowing students to send in their absentee ballot registrations for free.

Students registering to vote must sign the form that they fill out on TurboVote and mail it in, said Grover.

TurboVote does not require the University to reach a certain number of sign ups in order to renew the contract, but SGA Vice President of External Affairs Harrison Adams, a junior majoring in economics and finance, said he hopes to have the highest registration numbers in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). LSU currently leads the SEC in registered voters via TurboVote.

“We’re really close to LSU right now,” Adams said.

The University is only 12 signups shy of exceeding its goal of 500 TurboVote signups, and it expects to surpass that number at a Board of Registrar’s voter drive on Oct. 18, Adams said.

Every state has different rules for voting absentee. Some require voters to give an explanation for why they cannot vote at their assigned voting location, while others do not, but every state allows citizens to cast absentee ballots.

Bennett said most importantly, students need to be on top of the process so they can vote.

“You just got to get the ballot and get it in – that’s the most important thing,” Bennett said. “We want everybody to vote. That’s what our mission has been since we started.”

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Students navigate absentee voter registration