It’s no secret that college students can be counted among some of the most opinionated people when it comes to politics. As a college student, I’ve had more conversations about politics when I’m on campus than I do when I’m off campus. But if students can be so fired up about politics, why don’t we see more of them at the polls on a regular basis?
As a habitual voter myself, I didn’t have the answer. So I sought out a few of my fellow students and asked about their voting habits. The majority of the students I interviewed claimed to have never voted or only for the presidential elections. Only one student, James Reeves, said he voted regularly, knew what was on the Ohio ballot for this November, and planned to vote in the coming months. The response was about what I had expected from my peers, but I came away with a better understanding behind their choices.
The overall theme coming from the non-voting students or those who only voted for presidential elections was the accessibility and convenience of voting, or lack thereof from their perspective.
“I would love to [vote] but I can’t.” said Rebecca Crouse. She went on to say that although she wants to vote, she finds that her school schedule is too packed during fall quarters on Tuesdays. Crouse added there wasn’t time to drive half an hour back home to vote when the polls opened and by the time her classes ended on Tuesdays, the polls were closed. Kelsey Chance says she never votes because she doesn’t have a car to make it home to vote.
“I would vote more often if I was at home,” said Jason Johnston. As a student from Pennsylvania, getting home to vote is out of the question. “It’s an inconvenience that I can’t deal with right now.”
So when it comes to voting in-person, it seems that time and transportation are the biggest factors keeping students from the polls. I noticed that when interviewing Reeves, he mentioned that his designated polling station was less than a minute from his house and he had a car to get there. The same could be said for me, I have a car and my designated polling station is around two or three minutes from my apartment. These two factors of time and transportation might indeed be the difference between voting and non-voting students.
When the topic of absentee ballots came up, all non-voting and irregular voting students were frustrated with the idea. For them, absentee ballots are a pain to get and one more thing to do in their busy schedules. Most students have to go through a few extra, and sometimes irritating, steps to get their absentee ballots. This is because the mailing services that many colleges and universities give students are P.O. Boxes or similar. Most, if not all, absentee ballot processes will not allow the mailing of a ballot to a P.O. Box and students who can’t make it home to pick up an absentee ballot before the deadlines are out of luck.
This November, at least in Ohio, we have some pretty big issues on the ballot including Senate Bill 5 and Federal Health Care. These are issues that fire up any political conversation, perhaps particularly on a college campus. However, although they are charged about what’s going on in politics, student voters like Johnston and Crouse aren’t following what’s going on the ballots or in state politics.
“Not being able to vote, what’s the point in keeping track?” Crouse said. It seems like many college students are reactionary when it comes to politics. Unless it gets high media attention, they don’t go out of their way to find out what’s going on in state legislature. They want to have their say in politics, but feel they’re blocked from doing so from a lack of accessibility to polling stations and the inconvenience of absentee ballots.
Perhaps in a society that increasingly demands convenience, students and others would like to see more accessibility when it comes to voting. Currently, the difficulties of voting outweigh the importance of voting for many students. For students going to colleges out of state, students without cars, and students who feel they don’t have the time to spare, the solution isn’t entirely clear. What is clear are the powerful feelings that spark across the campus when it comes to politics. At the very least, many students have every intention of voting more regularly when they have the transportation and time to spare to participate.