Row of voting stalls. Credit: File Photo

Changes of address, absentee ballots and long lines at the polls are just some of the difficulties college students face when placing their vote. With COVID-19 still a part of our everyday lives, the voting landscape has changed dramatically in 2020. 

“Young people have always been leading the way in our democracy and they’ve been in this fight for generations,” political science professor Michael Latner said. 

According to Latner, many states have a history of suppressing the student vote. Not putting polling places on college campuses, not accepting student I.D. and requiring proof of permanent residence are all active forms of voter suppression. 

While all California voters are receiving their ballots by mail this year, this does not ease the frustration many Cal Poly students feel with the democratic process. 

“I know it’s necessary because of the pandemic but … it feels like there’s more opportunity for ballots getting lost or miscounted now,” materials engineering junior Dylan Orsolini said.

Students voting by absentee ballot, whether it is out of state or a different California county, also run into issues of ballots running late or being delivered to their hometown. 

“I remember my freshman year I found out I was registered to vote both in SLO and my hometown … I kind of thought I might have committed voter fraud,” said Orsolini.

Many errors in ballot mailing have caused distrust of the U.S. Postal Service. Liberal studies junior Julia Pennington made sure to change her address months in advance but still received notification that her ballot had been sent to her old campus residence. 

“I was freaking out,” Pennington said. “Like, why is my ballot in SLO when I’m in San Diego. It was just unnecessary stress.”

Latner said he is studying how increased voting by mail is affecting the election. 

“When you switch people from one method to another there’s always going to be a higher error rate,” Latner said.

In light of the pandemic and increasing voting by mail, Orsolini is wary of the impending election results. 

“The fact that we’re adding another layer of bureaucracy between the voter and the election results is scary to me,” said Orsolini. 

The notoriously busy schedules of college students also brings a challenge to voting. For many, it is not a matter of apathy; it is about taking the time to self-educate.

“Being an informed voter is a big time commitment. As students it’s hard to cut out the time to read every proposition,” Pennington said.

Despite these difficulties, students are determined to place their votes by Nov. 3. According to a Harvard Youth Poll, 63% of Americans age 18 to 29-years-old said they will “definitely be voting” in 2020. This number is up from 43% in 2016.

“The hype is voting right now, everyone wants to vote,” Pennington said.

According to Latner, “[t]here’s a lot of work to be done but I have all the confidence in the world that [young voters] can take us to the next level in our democracy.”

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