“The road to freedom must be uphill, even if it is arduous and frustrating.” – Andrew Goodman
The right to vote is a privilege that most are aware of, but many do not take advantage of. One reason people do not vote is because the logistics of voting can be intimidating, especially for students voting for the first time. Registering to vote can seem like a daunting task, but organizations like Vote Everywhere try to make the process of voting as simple and straightforward as possible for students. Vote Everywhere, part of The Andrew Goodman Foundation, is a national voting rights organization that operates in the memory of three civil rights activists who were murdered by the Klu Klux Klan in 1964 while they were registering voters in Mississippi.
“Our goal is to make sure students on our campus are registered, civically engaged, get them all the resources they need to vote and cast their ballot, and also to do other civic engagement work especially in the off season,” Samuel Reece, a senior at The University of Alabama (UA) and president of the UA Chapter of Vote Everywhere, said.
Vote Everywhere is active all year round, not just during voting season. The organization has led projects like getting their software ua.turbovote.com into MyBama, organizing a bus route from different on-campus locations to the polling place on election day, ensuring that digital ACT cards can be used as valid voter ID at polling locations and connecting with voters through institutions like campus housing, residential communities and the athletic department. In the off-season after elections, they spend time analyzing what voting looked like on campus, how many people voted, lessons they can learn from the election, comparing that election to previous years and deciding how they can improve the experience for the next election.
Vote Everywhere recognizes the importance and value of the right to vote, as does Reece.
“It means a lot to me, personally, to be able to cast my ballot,” Reece said. “It just is an experience for me of just saying to the world that I am here, and I am at it, and I am a full member of our society and our democracy, that I value the ability of folks to be able to have their voices heard. The vote is a really powerful thing, for you to be able to make choices and have your voice be heard. I often think of it as a statement of equality.”
Voting has been a greater discussion in this country now than it has been in decades. People are talking about all aspects of its integrity, and though some may disagree on details, it’s important that voting stays at the forefront of conversation so that it can continue to be improved for the next generation of voters. By continuing to keep voting in the spotlight, people can hold leaders accountable to make democracy more inclusive and equitable.
“Everyone in this country is talking about voting. Everyone is talking about the best ways to be able to vote. That’s the kind of energy that we’ve got to harness. We have got to take the energy that we have now and we have got to use this energy to make things better for folks. To make the system easier, to get more people involved, to get rid of the things that keep people from voting which very much exist in the state of Alabama, very much exist in this country,” Reece said
Registering to Vote on Campus
There are 3 main online resources students can use to register to vote.
- Ua.turbovote.org is a site that is customized for students at The University of Alabama, and paid for by the university. This is a one-stop tool to register to vote, check your voter registration, request an absentee ballot and sign up for election updates. It also forwards you directly to the secretary of state website when required.
- Alabamavotes.gov is the secretary of state’s website. This is the official site for residents of the state of Alabama for all things voting with official information in an accessible format.
- My.voteeverywhere.org is a site provided by Vote Everywhere with other great resources for voter education. On this site, you can establish your own voting plan which includes things like where and how you plan to vote, who you will be riding with and what time you will go. It will then email you reminders of your voter plan.
Information you need to provide when you register
When you register to vote online, you need to have your driver’s license or some form of state ID in hand. An ACT card is not valid in this case. You also need to know your residence address and your mailing address (whether they are the same or different), as well as the last four digits of your social security number.
“College students can vote where they choose to vote,” Reece said. “If you want to vote in Tuscaloosa, if you feel like you are invested in the Tuscaloosa community, you can. If you feel like you’d rather vote back home, that will require requesting an absentee ballot.”
If you are voting absentee, you’ll need to submit an absentee ballot request form that you submit along with a photocopy of your ID. In this case an ACT card is valid, as well as a driver’s license, passport, military ID, etc. Once this is approved, they will send you your absentee ballot. Once you fill this out, you will need two witnesses over the age of 18 to sign it as well.
The forms required for absentee ballots are different in every state, so research must be done to make sure you are doing the right thing. Something to be mindful of here is deadlines, and making sure you allow enough time before you request it and after you submit it for your ballot to go through the mail service in time to arrive before the deadlines.
If you are planning on voting in person on-campus, and already registered using your on-campus location, your voting location is the Student Rec center. There will be buses provided on election day to transport students directly there.
If you do not live on-campus or are not sure exactly where your location is, you can find that information on the secretary of state’s website (alabamavotes.gov), just type in your address and it will tell you exactly where to go. Most students who live in off-campus housing near campus will still vote at the Student Rec center.
Election Day and Coronavirus
If students are wanting to vote in-person but afraid to go to a polling place because of the virus, “they can absolutely request an absentee ballot.”
“Everybody in the state of Alabama this year no matter who you are, if you check the box that says that you have an illness or infirmity that prevents you from going to the polls, you’re covered. They’re not gonna double-check, they’re not gonna question whether you have an illness or infirmity,” said Reece.
Reece also recommends going to the county courthouse and voting absentee in-person. Students can show up at the courthouse and do the entire absentee ballot process in person, they just need to bring their ID like they would if they were requesting it from home. This way students don’t have to bother with the mail, and there will be fewer people at the courthouse than there will be on election day. This is also a useful option for anyone who wants to avoid the long lines on election day.
Ways to get involved
According to Reece, there is a dire need this year for college students to volunteer to be poll workers. Most people who work the polls on election day are over the age of 65, an age group that is an extremely at-risk population when it comes to COVID-19.
“Those are folks who have been doing that work for decades in a lot of cases,” Reece said. “In a lot of cases they are people who really really care and have run into voter suppression in the past and want to make sure that doesn’t happen in the future. It just is a way to honor and take care of the poll workers who don’t feel like they’re going to be able to do it this year.”
Students who sign up to work the pools will be paid as well as having the opportunity to engage in their communities. Those interested in volunteering can sign up to be a poll worker at powerthepolls.org.
Will my ACT card work as my voter ID?
Yes! When you vote on campus your ACT card is considered a valid form of ID, and that includes your digital ACT card on your phone, according to Reece.
How long is my registration good for?
In theory, once you are registered you stay registered forever. However, it is always a good idea to check your registration status before you vote, especially if you have experienced any life changes since the last time you voted, like moving or changing your name.
Will voting out of state or in state affect my student loans?
Rumor says that if you register in Alabama you can no longer claim being a dependent and you can no longer claim residency somewhere else. However this is not true. Your residency requirement and your voter registration are separate things, especially for college students. You get to choose where you want to vote with no impact on debt or loans.
Does it cost money to vote?
The only place where there is cost involved would be the cost of getting to your polling place or the cost of getting an ID. IDs are technically free but sometimes people who don’t have an ID have to go through steps like requesting their birth certificate which can sometimes add up. Students shouldn’t have that issue if voting on campus because ACT cards should work as their ID.
Can I get mailed the absentee ballot if I live on-campus and don’t have a mailbox at the Ferguson center?
Students on campus can get absentee mail for no cost, whether they pay for a mailbox or not. If you use your MSC code from mybama, you can use that and receive your ballot on campus absolutely free, you do not have to pay for a mailbox.
Is mail-in voting trustworthy?
Voter fraud is extremely rare. A lot of the things that end up being counted as “voter fraud” in the state of Alabama are actually unintentional voter mistakes. One thing to keep in mind is that mail can take a long time. If someone chooses to vote by mail, they should do it as early as possible to make sure it is received in time.
“I do recommend people do go vote absentee in person just because that gets rid of any of those problems with the mail. You should do it early, but you shouldn’t be concerned about the validity of the ballot. It will be counted,” Reece said.
Students can reach out to Vote Everywhere if they text UAVOTES to 56525. Those messages go straight to Samuel Reece and his team, and they will answer any questions as well as help to provide anything students might need including envelopes, stamps, etc.
The deadlines are different for each state, so those registering to vote absentee in their home state must do research to find their registration deadline and soon.