Student Disenfranchisement Report: Updates and Tips

The number of disenfranchised could be in the millions. Don’t be among them.

If you’re a U.S. citizen over the age of 18 and hoping to vote in the upcoming Presidential election, pay close attention: you could very well be disenfranchised (that is, turned away at the polls) if you do not get the appropriate identification documents in order. A recent Huffington Post article basically says it all:

In the last two years, Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed dozens of bills that erect new barriers to voting, all targeting Democratic-leaning groups, many specifically aimed at students. The GOP’s stated rationale is to fight voter fraud. But voter fraud—and especially in-person fraud which many of these measures address—is essentially nonexistent

That about sums everything up, but in case you haven’t yet heard about any of this, here’s the scoop: for the past couple years, states all across the country have been implementing new voter ID laws to supposedly mitigate voter fraud. Fact of the matter is, voter fraud happens at a staggering negligible amount of less than 0.001% of all votes cast during elections. These laws are actually voter suppression efforts aimed at keeping primarily left-leaning constituencies (like minorities and students) away from the polls.

For tips on how to avoid being a victim of student voter disenfranchisement, even in Connecticut, scroll to the bottom of the post after the jump. 

According to some studies, the number of people who will be kept from exercising their legal right to vote because of these new laws will literally be in the millions. And to make matters more ironic and downright appalling, the real goal of these new laws isn’t even a secret. Numerous GOP leaders have publicly acknowledged that these laws are geared towards keeping Democrats from voting. For example, the New Hampshire State House leader said outright that the new voter ID laws are meant to keep students from “doing what I did when I was a kid: voting as a liberal.” Pennsylvania’s State House leader basically said something similar by claiming that Voter ID would allow Romney to win the state. And former Florida GOP party chairman acknowledged that his party has made conscious efforts to suppress the Black and Latino vote.

While the Huff Post article emphasizes swing states like Tennessee and Pennsylvania, voter suppression can also hit a little closer to home. Just last Fall, hundreds of Wesleyan students registered to vote in Connecticut in the hopes of voting in Middletown’s 2011 municipal elections. A huge fiasco ensued: contrary to common practice, Middletown Republicans who were scared of having their Republican mayor voted out of office—which ultimately happened—decided that students could no longer register at 45 Wyllys Avenue, something the town registrars had been allowing for decades. Instead, students would now have to switch their registration information to their dorm addresses.

While this is technically what should be done, most college towns allow students to register at their student centers. This is because students change living locations every year and because they never receive mail where they sleep at night, two facts that keep them from having to change their registration every year and having no paperwork to prove where they live. The fact that the practice was changed merely weeks before the close Middletown election in which an incumbent Republican was probably going to lose his seat to a young Democrat is itself telling as to what the real intentions of the changes were. Well, the tactic worked: this new policy effectively cracked Wesleyan’s campus, forcing registered students (many of them Democrats) to suddenly have to vote in one of five different voting districts without adequate and comprehensible warning of their new voting location. This ultimately confused the hundreds of registered students as to whether or not they were even allowed to vote, and resulted in many of them not to even bothering to vote because they had no idea what was going on.

Thankfully, most Wesleyan students will be able to vote at the Senior Center right by Broad Street this year, so there won’t be much confusion as to where they go to vote. However, there are a lot of other things students need to be aware of in order not to be turned away on November 6th because of the rules implemented last Fall.

In order to avoid being disenfranchised in Connecticut or elsewhere, here’s what you should do:

  1. If you’re planning to vote by absentee ballot at home, apply to get an absentee ballot ASAP—the deadlines are very soon. Click here to go to a website that can help you with that.
  2. If you would like to vote in Connecticut and aren’t yet registered, print a registration form by going here. When filling it out, make sure you put your current dorm name and its full address (with 06457 as the zip code) as your residency. Then put 45 Wyllys Ave, Wesbox #, Middletown, CT, 06459 in the mailing address section. Also include the last four digits of your SSN if you can—it helps with identification purposes on the registrars end and with casting a vote on Election Day on your end. Then go drop the form in the Voter Registration dropbox by the first floor mail room in Usdan. (Or mail it in to the address listed on the back of the form.)
  3. If you’re already registered in Connecticut but have changed residency location (such as moved to a new dorm), fill out the same form by going here, but select “Address Change” instead of “New Voter Registration.” Insert all the necessary information, including your new address and the old one in the previous voting address section. Once you’re done, but it in the Usdan Voter Registration Drop Box by the first mail room or mail it to the Registrar of Voters. (For those of you studying abroad this semester, more information will be posted on Wesleying very soon.)

Addresses for Wesleyan dorms are the following:

  • Bennet Hall – 35 Foss Hill
  • Clark – 268 Church Street
  • WestCo – 18 Foss Hill Drive
  • Nics – 57 Foss Hill Drive
  • Butts A – 25 Lawn Ave
  • Butts B – 20 Huber Ave
  • Butts C – 50 Huber Ave
  • 156 High Apartments – 156 High Street
  • 200 Church House – 200 Church Street
  • Any of the senior or program houses should be easy to figure out

Lastly: make sure you have a WesID with you on Election Day and, if possible, some form of documentation from Wesleyan that proves that you live in your current living location, like a note from ResLife.

That’s it for now, everyone. If all this has angered you enough and you need a breather, here’s a great comedy sketch by Sarah Silverman to make you laugh a bit.

Full disclosure: the writer of this post was actively involved in the Wesleyan/Middletown voter registration efforts of Fall 2012, and she’s a staunch Democrat (in case that wasn’t already clear).

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