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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

What Virginia College Students Need to Know About Voting

A mock voting simulation for students set up by VCU Votes. (Photo by Hollyann Purvis)

RICHMOND — College-aged people are among the largest voting block, yet tend to have the lowest turnout in elections, according to Campus Vote Project Virginia coordinator Amber Wilt.

The group is a project of the Fair Elections Center and works to reduce barriers to student voting, according to its website.

Just over 20% of voters ages 18-29 cast a ballot in Virginia’s midterm elections last year, according to Tufts University. The state with the highest voter turnout in that age group in 2022 was Michigan, with 36.5%.

“Everyone has concerns, whether it’s political or not, and they all are impacted by their ballot,” Wilt said. “So I try to work with them a little bit to identify how their concerns can be shown on the ballot.”

There are two primary obstacles between college students and voting, according to Wilt.

“One is students not feeling like their vote matters and that it amounts to anything, and the other being that they just don’t really feel like they know enough about what’s up for election,” Wilt said.

There are definitely “unfortunate hurdles” that can get in the way of voting, according to Maria Reynoso, founder and executive director of We Vote VA. The group presents election information through digital content.

“At the same time, there are a lot of things happening in Virginia and across the country that could be motivating factors for people to really have their voice heard,” Reynoso said.

Representatives should be more transparent and present more information online to help boost turnout among young voters, according to Reynoso.

“Young people are motivated. They’re energized. They want to be involved,” Reynoso said. “I think we just have to do a better job at giving access, making electoral information more accessible to people.”

VCU Votes is a student coalition and a separate course, according to freshman Lucie Carberry, a student in the VCU Votes course. Students hosted an event Oct. 19 that mirrored a voting simulation to better prepare students for voting.

“A lot of college students have the problem of being embarrassed that they don’t know how to vote and they end up not voting because of the anxiety related to the embarrassment of actually voting,” Carberry said.

Most Virginia universities have campus organizations to increase voter education and engagement, such URGOV at the University of Richmond, HoosVote at University of Virginia, and Marlins Vote at Virginia Wesleyan University.

“There are groups on campus that are dedicated to this, and I would say search and find those groups, or go to your political science faculty members,” said Carah Ong Whaley, academic program officer at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “They’re going to be a really credible source of information if you don’t have a voting coalition on campus.”

College students face hurdles such as motivational and technical barriers when voting, Ong Whaley said.

“This isn’t necessarily the case in Virginia, but in other states, there’s just outright attempts to block young people from voting,” Ong Whaley said.

Virginia has increased access to voting in recent years.

“Students can use their student ID to go vote, but they may not know that, and so helping inform them about how and demystifying the process of voting will help them get to the polls,” Ong Whaley said.

Political parties can help make voting social, celebratory and communal. That is important, especially in a divisive environment, Ong Whaley said.

“Ask what you can do to improve your community the day after elections,” Ong Whaley said. “Especially this year when we’re talking about state and local elections, you know, these are really elections that impact our everyday lives as residents in Virginia, so it is really important to be a voter.”

Virginia college voter guide 2023

Students may be confused about how to vote when away from home, especially after redistricting in 2021, according to Reynoso.

Virginia’s redistricting may have changed a voter’s representatives or impacted the partisan lean of their district. Voters can check districts and potential changes on the Virginia General Assembly website.

“Whether you’re in school, living in the district that you’re in right now, or going back home, local representation is what impacts you the most,” Reynoso said.

All 140 seats in the state’s General Assembly, which creates laws for all state residents, are open this election. There are 100 seats in the House of Delegates and 40 in the Senate.

There are also over 2,300 candidates vying for election to local seats and positions such as mayor, school board, board of supervisors, treasurer, clerk of court, commonwealth attorney and sheriff.

Voting is important in all districts and races, according to Reynoso. Turnout can sway the outcome of races, some more than others. The Virginia Public Access Project ranks districts by leans Republican, strong Republican, leans Democratic, strong Democratic and competitive.

There are 11 districts rated competitive by VPAP, and a handful of others that pundits consider too close to call.

11 competitive districts: 

  • House District 21: Prince William County (partial).
  • HD 22: Prince William County (partial).
  • HD 57: Henrico and Goochland counties (partial).
  • HD 65: Fredericksburg City. Stafford and Spotsylvania counties (partial).
  • HD 82: Petersburg City. Surry County. Dinwiddie and Prince George counties (partial).
  • HD 89: Chesapeake and Suffolk cities (partial).
  • HD 97: Virginia Beach City (partial).
  • Senate District 17: Suffolk, Franklin and Emporia cities. Isle of Wight, Southampton, Brunswick, Greensville counties. Portsmouth and Chesapeake cities (partial). Dinwiddie County (partial).
  • SD 24: Williamsburg and Poquoson cities. York County. Newport News City (partial). James City County (partial).
  • SD 27: Fredericksburg City. Stafford and Spotsylvania counties (partial).
  • SD 31 Loudoun and Fauquier counties (partial).

Things to consider before voting: 

  • Are you registered? Check voter registration status on the Virginia Department of Elections website.
  • If you are not registered, that’s OK. Same-day registration is allowed in Virginia. You won’t be turned away, but you will receive a provisional ballot to vote and sign a quick form agreeing you are eligible to vote.
  • Provisional ballots are placed in separate envelopes, and reviewed the day after the election.
  • Will you vote at your permanent residence or where you reside when away at school? You can vote in either place, but have to choose one.

What to bring to the poll: 

  • One form of ID is required, including a Virginia driver’s license or school-issued ID with photo. A utility bill, paycheck or bank statement that shows your name and address is also acceptable.
  • For a full list of acceptable ID, click to the state elections website.
  • Don’t have any of that? You just have to sign a statement and vote with a provisional ballot.

Key Dates:

  • Friday, Oct. 27: Last day to request an absentee ballot.
  • Saturday, Nov. 4: Last day of in-person early voting.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 7: Election Day.
  • Friday, Nov. 10: Mail-in ballots must be received by noon, postmarked no later than Nov. 7.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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