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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Universities could do a lot to improve voter registration and turnout

A new bill is making its way through the California state Legislature that would automatically register people to vote when receiving their drivers’ licenses. With a record low voting turnout of 42 percent in November statewide elections, Senate Democrats sought measures to increase voter turnout. Although the bill is still waiting for the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown, the measure is expected to become law.

Unfortunately, similar laws are unlikely to pass anytime soon in Arizona. The Republican-controlled state Legislature and executive branch are in no rush to register more young, poor or minority voters; blocs of voters that typically vote Democrat. The state of Arizona, however, should consider doing something, considering 2014 saw a record low 36.4 percent turnout.

But since they won’t, voting rights activists and other enthusiastic Americans should press the university system to lead the way in increasing voter turnout. There are approximately 40,000 students at the UA. Using the 2012 national voting percentage of people 18-24 of 38 percent, we can assume around 15,200 UA students voted in the last presidential election. That’s pathetic, and it should be no surprise that turnout like this has led to minimal action on issues important to young people.

One way universities could make a difference on this matter is to require new students at the UA to register to vote in order to attend orientation. Even if students are younger than 18, the state of Arizona, along with most other states, allows people to register as long as they will be 18 by the next election. Students could register in Arizona, or their home state, and just submit proof of registration to the university.

Universities require a myriad of forms and documents both for initial acceptance and actual attendance. Transcripts, letters, financial forms and essays are all assumed and normalized sections of the process. It isn’t unreasonable to say that showing dedication to being a civically engaged citizen is important for attendance in higher education. If a few universities adopted this policy, others would quickly follow suit and thousands more young people would be participating in our democracy.

Clearly, there are a few caveats to this idea. First, there would be no requirement to vote in the election. Such a requirement would be illegal and impossible to enforce, but registering students would at least make their voting more likely. Second, undocumented and international students would obviously be given a pass on this requirement due to the nature of their status within the country. And third, this is by no means a comprehensive solution to low voting turnout because it assumes that simply because someone can do something, they will.

The biggest reason people didn’t vote in the 2014 election, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, was because they were “too busy.” Other reasons listed include forgetting to vote, registration problems, inconvenient polling places, transportation barriers and, of course, apathy. Some of these may be difficult to counteract, but there are some simple policies that could increase the voting rate significantly.

Proposed solutions include declaring voting day a national holiday, expanding early voting, increasing mail-in ballots and automatic voter registration. Some, or preferably all, of these measures would be effective, and society would benefit from the presence of more participation in our democracy.

As we look to the government to craft some of these ideas, it’s important that activists do what they can in their local communities. Persuading the university system to play an active role in the process would send a strong message about its commitment to democracy, the value of active citizenship and the importance of issues that matter to young people.

Follow Jacob Winkelman on Twitter.

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