Home or campus? First-time voters weigh options

Home or campus? First-time voters weigh options

For most college freshmen, the November midterm election will be their first chance to vote in a federal general election.

With Election Day approaching — and given heightened political awareness this year — efforts to get out the student vote are in high gear. Those involved in myriad campus voter registration drives at the University of Illinois say they’re seeing more interest.

“We’ve been hearing really good stories about record increases in voter registration from various campaigns,” said UI graduate student Rahul Raju, who is co-chairing the Get Out The Vote task force for Illinois Student Government. “It looks good, especially for a midterm election.”Blog Photo

Students at the UI have several voting options: voting back home, in person or via absentee/mail-in ballot; or registering to vote in Champaign County (online, in person or by mail) and then voting by mail, voting at one of several designated early voting places, or voting on election day.

Early voting opened Thursday at the county clerk’s office at the Brookens Administrative Center, 1776 E. Washington St., U. The Illini Union, 1401 W. Green St., U, will also be an early voting site, beginning Oct. 25 through election day.

In Champaign County, more than half of the ballots come in before election day, said Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten, “which we love. It makes things incredibly smooth on Election Day. It reduces the risk of lines for other voters,” he said.

The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is Nov. 1. For a vote to be counted, the ballot must be postmarked on or before Nov. 6.

College students attending school elsewhere can use that option, but you don’t need to be “absent” to do it, Hulten said. Any voter registered in Champaign County can vote by mail.

The county doesn’t track student status when a voter requests a mail-in ballot, and it’s difficult for the county to determine how many students here are voting by mail in other jurisdictions, he said.

UI Associate Dean of Students Gina Olukoya said absentee voting is typically low on college campuses — probably because it’s more work, and today’s tech-savvy students don’t use real mail very often.

But mail-in voting overall continues to grow in popularity, Hulten said.
With more than 5,500 mail-in ballots requested so far for the Nov. 6 mid-term elections, “we’re about three times higher than we were for the last midterm” in 2014, he said.

Hulten said the easiest way to do it is to register online through the State Board of Elections website. The online registration deadline this year is Oct. 22 — 15 days before election day on Nov. 6. Students can then request a mail ballot from the county clerk’s office.

In rare cases, a voter may be asked to provide some proof of identification, such as a photocopy of a driver’s license, with a mail-in ballot if it’s their first time voting overall, Hulten said. But that’s only if his office is unable to verify their ID through the State Board of Elections, he said.

Mail-in voting rules vary by state, so UI students who are hoping to vote back home — whether it’s the Chicago area or another state — need to check the rules there.

Or they can check Google, Hulten said. The tech giant, which started its election push during the 2016 presidential campaign “does a fantastic job,” he said.

“Just Google, ‘How do I vote by mail?’ and the city you live in, and very often you can get good information,” he said.

Campus turnout is typically very low during midterm elections. In 2014, the 10 campus-area precincts at the UI tallied 1,537 votes out of 10,114 registered voters — about 15 percent, Hulten said.

He isn’t sure what to expect on campus this year, but he thinks the overall number of ballots cast county-wide will increase.

“I think we will set a record for midterm turnout. We have broken turnout records in four of our last six elections in Champaign County,” he said.

UI junior Kirsten Peterson, co-chair of the Get Out the Vote Task Force, expects to see student numbers increase. The task force is working with Illinois Public Interest Research Group, the Big Ten voting challenge and other organizations to get out the campus vote.

“The political climate right now is certainly more contested, more heated from a partisan standpoint,” she said, and education itself has become a political issue with some changes proposed by the U.S. Department of Education and the recent two-year state budget impasse. “Students are more aware of the electoral process and have more desire to be a part of that.”

Peterson, who is from Normal, said she’s planning to vote by mail back home in McLean County. She’s more familiar with the candidates there and didn’t want to risk trying to re-register here.

But if Normal wasn’t in the hotly contested 13th U.S. congressional district, where GOP incumbent Rodney Davis is facing Democratic challenger Betsy Londrigan, she might have reconsidered.

The campus will have eight polling places this year, two fewer than in past elections. The Illinois Street Residence Hall Dining Facility is under construction, so students in that precinct will vote at the Illini Union. And the Skelton Place polling place closed because that complex was sold to a new owner, Hulten said.

The other campus-area polling places are the University YMCA, Hillel, Ikenberry Commons dining facility, the Activities and Recreation Center, the Lincoln Avenue Residence Halls and the Pennsylvania Avenue Residence Halls.

The Illini Union setup isn’t ideal, with a fourth-floor polling place, Raju said. Students would have liked a more convenient spot on lower levels, but that’s all that was available for the full two weeks of early voting there. They plan to work with the campus to try to designate a few rooms as priority voting locations for future elections, to provide accessibility and consistency, he said.

Hulten said the polling place is actually two rooms, and “we’re going to fit as many booths and election judges and stations in there as we possibly can.”

For more information, visit:

Champaign County Clerk website (Click “elections” tab)
Campus Vote Project Illinois
State Board of Elections website
UI voter registration website

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Julie Wurth writes about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Contact her at 217-351-5226, jwurth@news-gazette.com or Twitter.com/jawurth.

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