As the 2016 presidential election enters its final two-month sprint, the clock is also running down on voter registration deadlines. Virginians have just 20 days left to register to vote in the Nov. 8 election.
Whether they’re planning to register in Charlottesville or vote absentee in their hometowns, the University of Virginia’s Student Council wants to ensure that every eligible UVA student is able to make their voice heard in this election.
“Today’s college students, for the most part, have never lived, let alone voted, in an America where suffrage wasn’t universal, and I think it’s incredibly easy for us to take the right to vote for granted,” said Katie Brandon, Student Council’s director of political engagement and chair of the Legislative Affairs Committee. “People around the world are risking their lives for the right to vote and yet the American 18- to 29-year-old demographic consistently has the worst voter turnout rates. We have to fix that, especially at UVA.”
Brandon is leading Student Council’s nonpartisan efforts to get as many students to register to vote as possible before Virginia’s Oct. 17 deadline. In early September, the council launched UVAVotes.com, a central hub where students can find out everything they need to know about registering to vote locally or via absentee ballot.
Student Council is partnering with groups around Grounds to create this single, organized registration drive. On-Grounds partners include Housing and Residence Life, the Center for Politics, University Programs Council, the Black Student Alliance and multiple politically oriented student groups. While the registration effort includes groups with many different perspectives, UVAVotes and all of its related education initiatives remain nonpartisan by design.
“We’re focusing largely on providing education information by pulling registration materials from the Virginia Department of Elections and other nonpartisan websites,” Brandon said. “Additionally, we’re working to provide educational programming that represents both ends of the political spectrum and everything in between.”
With that in mind, the UVAVotes initiative has organized informational talks at dorms across Grounds and set up registration tables at large events like the annual Student Activities Fair. On Monday, it hosted students in Newcomb Theater for dinner and live viewing of the first presidential debate.
The goal of many of these events is to remind students that politics can be positive and exciting. One way they’re doing this is by collaborating with interns at the Center for Politics on a voter registration competition among all first-year dorms on Grounds, with a Mellow Mushroom pizza party at stake. Student Council volunteers and Center for Politics interns are available to register students outside the Observatory Hill dining facility from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Monday through Thursday.
“We’re trying to make a legacy. We’re trying to get people registered to vote as first-years so that they’ll stay politically engaged the next year and the year after that,” Center for Politics intern and second-year student Saajid Hasan said. “We want to get people talking and let them realize that politics can be a good thing.”
Brandon explained that many of the UVAVotes events and resources are also meant to dispel common misconceptions students have about the registration process.
“We see a couple key areas of confusion in students regarding voter registration and Virginia, but most of them are easily resolved,” she said. “Any student who is a U.S. citizen may register to vote at their UVA or Charlottesville address, regardless of home state. We also remind students that they are permitted to use their UVA student ID cards as their form of photo identification at the polls.”
While registering to vote in Charlottesville ensures that students are more easily able to vote in person on Election Day, Brandon said UVAVotes is encouraging students to register wherever they are most likely to fulfill their commitment to vote. She added that some students might want to register in their hometowns because they are more familiar with the local politics there.
For those students who wish to vote in their hometown via absentee ballot, UVAVotes.com includes links to vote.org, a national nonpartisan site that helps voters register or determine their existing registration. It also contains information about the different voter registration deadlines across states.
UVAVotes will be pushing hard to get students registered before the Virginia deadline, but their work won’t stop there. Many of their partner groups are offering students free rides to polling places on Election Day and UVAVotes is currently working with Parking and Transportation to further expand student-voters’ transportation options.
“Thomas Jefferson helped found an American democracy that first only extended suffrage to landed white males, but the men and women who came after him have corrected this error and it is our duty to take responsibility for our own government,” Brandon said. “If you’re a Democrat: vote. If you’re a Republican: vote. If you’re an independent: vote. Just vote.”