Today is National Voter Registration Day and Johns Hopkins University is encouraging faculty, staff, and students to make sure they are ready to cast their ballots in time for Election Day on Tuesday Nov. 6.
To take some of the guesswork and stress out of voting—particularly for undergraduates, many of whom will be first-time voters this fall—Homewood Student Affairs is working with several student groups to reach out to students about their options and guide them through the registration process, says Misti McKeehen, executive director of the university's Center for Social Concern.
"We want to do whatever we can to make it as easy as possible for students to have their voice heard in the upcoming election," McKeehen says. "Our work is nonpartisan, so it isn't about who students plan to vote for, it's that they have the ability to vote in the election. We want to remove any barriers for them, from registration to how they actually cast their ballot."
The registration and voting processes can be challenging for students, who may not know what paperwork is needed to register, whether to register in their home states or here in Maryland, or how to request an absentee ballot. For answers to those questions and more, students are invited to attend a National Voter Registration Day picnic today from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Center for Social Concern. Co-hosted by the Student Government Association's Civic Engagement Committee, IDEAL, Jail Tutorial, and Charm City Science League, the picnic will include free food and help with registration, plus the opportunity to look up local ballots, ask questions about polling locations, and make plans for voting. Students who are already registered can also attend, to learn about voter-encouragement volunteer opportunities or to bring friends who aren't registered.
The picnic is one of several university efforts aimed at simplifying the voter registration process and increasing student participation at the polls.
"At a moment when democracy is under strain, it is more important than ever that we all use the vital skills and tools—especially the vote—to sustain it," Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels says. According to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, conducted by Tufts University, more than 65 percent of JHU students who were eligible to vote were registered in 2014, but only 14.4 percent cast ballots in the midterm election that year. The national participation rate among students in the 2014 election was 19.1 percent.
In 2016, Hopkins students surpassed the national average among their peers, with 55.8 percent of JHU students voting compared to 50.4 percent voting nationally. That was a 13.3 percent increase among JHU students voting compared with the 2012 election.
To encourage increased participation, the university is providing programming assistance and supporting tools such as TurboVote, a online service that keeps track of the voter registration regulations for all 50 states. Users can register to vote, get election reminders, and receive absentee ballots by filling out TurboVote's simple online form.
Students who are not registered in their home states with deadlines that have already passed—such as New York, Florida, and Massachusetts—still have time to register as Maryland residents. The deadline to register in Maryland is 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 16.
If students know they are going to be busy on election day and can't vote in person at the Waverly Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library—the local polling place for Homewood students—they are encouraged to vote via absentee ballot, which must be requested by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 30, and postmarked by Tuesday, Nov. 6. To that end, an absentee ballot party is being planned for Friday, Oct. 26, on the upper quad, where students will be able to put a stamp on their ballots and hand them to a representative from the post office.
"Voting by absentee ballot is part of our emphasis on students making their plans to vote," McKeehen says. "If a student has a test that day, they are less likely to go the Waverly Library to vote. So we are not just going to say 'how are you getting to Waverly on Nov. 6?' We want to also help them obtain a ballot ahead of time and make sure they have a stamp for it."
If students have questions about registration, voting, or seeking information about their respective ballots, they are invited to visit the Center for Social Concern Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., to speak to someone about informational tools and resources from now until Election Day on Nov. 6.