Boosting student-voter registration

Two bills to boost voter registration among young people have cleared the Oregon Legislature - and are now headed to the Governor's desk. From the Oregonian:

One bill compels state universities and community colleges to work with student governments to create programs that encourage students to register and then make their voices heard. The other, for which the Oregon Bus Project heavily lobbied, allows 17-year-olds to register to vote, though they must still wait until their 18th birthday to cast a ballot.

HB 2910 is the one that allows all 17-year-olds to register to vote. Existing law only allowed that inside a 60-day window before the election. As Representative Ben Cannon (D-Portland) points out to the Oregonian:

"Students who are 17 are typically still in high school so you have a captive audience you can tap in a voter registration drive."

HB 2910 achieved final passage on a 50-1 vote in the House. The lone vote against came from House Republican Leader Wayne Scott.

The bill to improve college and university voter registration efforts was SB 951. From the O:

Senate Bill 951 lays out specific requirements for an administration- and student government-planned program that would encourage students to sign up and vote. One of the bill's strongest advocates is Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem. He remembers starting his own political career with a voter registration drive at Oregon State University.

"What I saw was that there were institutional barriers" to registering students to vote, Clem said. "This is saying, let's look more at an institutional, nonpartisan way of getting voter registration cards into college students' hands."

On the jump, the entire (short) text of SB 951...

Each community college and state institution of higher education listed in ORS 352.002 shall adopt a plan, in consultation with the recognized student government of the college or institution, to increase student voter registration and voting in elections. Each plan shall:

(1) Ensure that all students receive information about voting and the opportunities available on campus to register to vote;

(2) Ensure that all students receive information about activities relating to voting that are prohibited by law and the penalties for those activities;

(3) Address the distribution and collection of voter registration cards, as defined in ORS 247.002, during the first three weeks of each academic term;

(4) Require that voter registration cards be made available in residence halls, campus bookstores, places where students register for classes, financial aid offices and student adviser offices;

(5) Require college and institution administrators to communicate with faculty, staff and students about deadlines for voter registration; and

(6) Include a campus-wide advertising campaign to advise students of the deadline for delivering ballots by mail.

Discuss.

Comments

  • Jefferson Smith (unverified)
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    And kudos to Brett Rowlett & Melissa Unger and the Oregon Student Association for being the primary citizen forces behind SB 951...mandating campus cooperation for voter registration.

    They showed great nonpartisan leadership on that issue. And they have shown the State's greatest leadership in urging college voter participation as a general matter.

  • (Show?)

    Kudos to the Bus Project for targeting young people before they turn 18. We need to start even younger in my opinion. Voting and registering to vote should be as natural as text messaging and going to the mall for our young people. I am so glad the Bus Project exists. They work hard to make politics fun. They are creating a new generation of young politically minded leaders that are no doubt going to lead not only Oregon but the whole country in a better and more progressive direction. I tip my cap to you. BTW: Would you like to register to vote?

  • Dave Lister (unverified)
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    One question. With our vote by mail system, how do they verify that a seventeen year old registrant does not vote before their eighteenth birthday?

  • Big Barton (unverified)
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    Now we just need same-day registration. Please.

  • (Show?)

    With our vote by mail system, how do they verify that a seventeen year old registrant does not vote before their eighteenth birthday?

    Um, Dave... they won't get a ballot unless they turn 18 before the election.

  • ellie (unverified)
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    Interesting. I like the idea of HB 2910 because I probably would have used it myself. But SB 951, while well-intended, just sounds like more bureaucratic crap for schools to deal with. If students are interested in voting, they'll do it -- they don't need the administration to hold their hands through the process.

  • Sasha Pollack, Senator Ryan Deckert's office (unverified)
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    One question. With our vote by mail system, how do they verify that a seventeen year old registrant does not vote before their eighteenth birthday?

    Dave, Our statewide voter database is programmed to ensure that no one that is ineligible to vote is sent a ballot. There are some people like this in the system already, and with the advent of expanded 17 year old voter registration from 2910 there will be more. We worked on this bill with both the county clerks and the elections division to ensure that neither voter fraud nor increased workload for the clerks would be an issue.

  • (Show?)

    If students are interested in voting, they'll do it -- they don't need the administration to hold their hands through the process.

    Student voter registration and education has been my primary focus and job responsibility as the legislative director for PCC's Cascade campus over the last year, and it has been my experience that most students aren't dis-interested in voting and involvement. It is much more common for students to be intimidated by the process or feel disconnected because they haven't been shown how the issues being decided affect them. Record numbers of students (at least since the 70's), young and not-so-young have been registered to vote in the last few years and are voting more and more (contrary to the sensationalistic media reports). Deciding that young people are not interested does a disservice to them. I can also say that, as far as PCC is concerned, there is tremendous faculty and administrative support for student voter registration and involvement. I've experienced that myself. I believe that college administrations are beginning to see the benefit to involving students in the political process because we are their greatest asset for gaining the funding needed from the state. We are a voting power for colleges and they know that.

    Educating and encouraging students to register to vote, and be involved is not hand-holding. It's good common sense for the betterment and continuation of our political system.

  • Dave Lister (unverified)
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    Thanks for clarifying how the database works. Personally, I miss going to the polling places. I felt a huge amount of pride in exercising my franchise. Something visceral about going in, announcing my name, receiving my ballot. And afterward, hearing the clerk say "David Lister has voted". It really meant something to me.

    Vote by mail is kind of like paying bills. And the pathetic turnouts are really disappointing. I think the kids are missing out on something, not having a polling place.

    Maybe it's just me, but I really miss it.

  • (Show?)

    "I think the kids are missing out on something, not having a polling place."

    Namely those cool "I Voted" stickers. I have kept every one. They are like democratic process badges of courage. They should include them in the envelope with your ballot. I am going to start an "I Voted" sticker campaign along with a pre-posted registration form and ballot campaign. (aka, eliminating the Oregon poll tax.) Who wants in?

  • (Show?)

    >Personally, I miss going to the polling places.

    Me, too, but this is HUGE in terms of enfranchising the next generation of voters, and I applaud everyone who had a hand in making it happen.

  • tl (unverified)
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    Maybe it's just me, but I really miss it.

    I don't miss voting booths and polling places. Waiting in lines, trying to find the right voting location, right ward, etc. after moving, rushing to get there before the polls closed, bad weather, etc., etc...

    This way I can research, think about it, and take my time in a comfortable setting.

  • Randy2 (unverified)
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    Oregonian37:

    "It is much more common for students to be intimidated by the process or feel disconnected because they haven't been shown how the issues being decided affect them."

    If this is accurate, it is a sad result of K-12 civics education being severely reduced because of budget cuts and No Child Left Behind.

    In any case -- congrats to the Bus for their efforts. Makes this older guy just a little less worried about the future.

    Randy

  • (Show?)

    I'm jazzed that this is a step towards pulling Oregon out of last place in regards to the turnout gap between young and older voters. Just try to keep up now, Kansas. (Source)

    Cheers to everyone who's worked on this.

  • (Show?)

    Randy2, I very much agree.

  • Jefferson Smith (unverified)
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    Four things:

    1) More kudos: to Sasha Pollack, for championing voter access all session. And to Janice Thompson, of Democracy Reform Oregon, for pushing on voter access, including the 17-year-old registration piece. (More kudos deserved, but this post is already long.)

    2) Randy2: Heck yes about civic education. Sheesh it's important. (And underpaying teachers doesn't help boost social entrepreneurship in the classroom.) We should push to pass something on the civic education front next session. Paul Evans has some good stuff. Ben Cannon too.

    3) Dave: good point re: polling places. I think there's a possibility of doing both: having vote-by-mail plus "voting centers" -- sorta like less-numerous polling places. Voting centers could also do secure registration up to election day. And then voters would have maximum freedom and choice, and we'd boost particiation. Utah (I think) tried something like this with great results. To me, we need to be pushing for secure hassle-free voting in general, and Oregon oughtta lead the nation on that stuff.

    4) Ellie: You raise an important issue. I too would love for everyone to come out of the womb loving their neighbor and participating in civic life, but I would be opposed to the sort of genetic engineering it might require to ensure such innate behavior. Among the biggest indicators of whether a person will vote are the habits they develop and the social pressures around them. The best way (proven by egghead Yale study) to get a person to vote is for a person to tell them / ask them / remind them to vote.

    By the way, the same "social pressures matter" reality holds true for going to school (compulsory), getting dressed in the morning (highly recommended), deciding to go to college (if you're into that sorta thing), mowing the lawn (sucks!), etc. Buying clothes or joining the military is a bit different -- often motivated "independently" by t.v. ads and recruiters. But Democracy doesn't have nearly as big an ad budget. So I think we all need to work on building a culture that encourages a bit more social awareness. More fun, more relevance, more civic education, a revised campaign finance system, a rule structure that encourages it, more local activity, and on and on.

    Forgive the long post, but getting our democratic capitalist system to work for the many is the challenge of this generation, so I suppose it's worth spilling some pixels.

  • (Show?)

    Having worked with college campuses in 2004, I am glad to see these bills likely to pass.

    Some of the campuses we worked with were eager and willing to help. With others we ran into problems. Sometimes it was the administrators. Sometimes it was the professors. And sometimes it was the admissions dept.

    Obviously one of the best places to get students registered was during the admissions process, but many admissions depts. didn't want anything to do with the voter registration process.

    All we wanted was them to have a short mention about registering to vote (about how they could register in Oregon, we're a VBM state so you need to have your address correct, etc.) and include a form with the other forms the students were filling out.

    After the various problems we ran into (yes, we were working with student government and OSA), a lot of us started talking about how nice it would be to have it required that the campuses had to help. The student governments were getting frustrated, I'd imagine OSA was getting frustrated, and I know all us campus organizers were getting frustrated.

    I am so glad to see that OSA has been able to champion this bill. And I'm glad to see it working its way towards the governor's desk.

    I'm also happy to see the bill saying 17 year-olds can vote. It is so much easier to do a voter registration drive and get students registered while they're in high school, rather than trying to find them once they've graduated. Not everyone goes away to college, and those are the ones a lot less likely to vote.

    For those who didn't know, the database works in such a way that ballots are not sent out to people until they are eligible. In the case of those who turn 18 really close to (or on) Election Day, they have to come in and pick up their ballots. The same for those about to become citizens - they can register, but aren't eligible for a ballot until they come in and show they're now citizens.

    The county clerks and elections offices have already had to deal with this for those who register in the 60 days before they turn 17 or are becoming citizens around or on Election Day. Because of the 21 day cut-off before Election Day for registration, those about to become citizens regularly register early so that they meet that deadline.

    Having worked in the Elections office, I met more than a few 18 year-olds who came in to pick up their ballot in those final days before the 2004 election. They were very excited to vote. It'll be nice when we see that enthusiasm in even more young people.

  • Jesse B. (unverified)
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    I would also like to commend OSA.

    Rock on, fellow OSA'ers.

    Double thanks to Melissa and Brett.

  • mbraymen (unverified)
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    I can understand the nostalgia for polling places, but I have to say vote by mail is a whole lot stressful for me. I can remember voting fewer contests in elections before vote by mail because I would get to the poling place without enough information to make a decision. I wasn’t then and probably will never be organized enough to pull everything together before getting to a polling place. As an alternative to polling places, have a election get together with friends or neighbors to discuss issues, read the voter pamphlet and share some food. As for low turnout, I don’t think you can tag that on vote by mail. I believe there has been a multiple decade campaign to discourage voting. “Don’t vote if you don’t understand the issue.” I counter that you should always cast your ballot even if you under-vote ever contest. Candidates and pollsters have little interest in people who don’t cast a ballot.

  • Karla (unverified)
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    Our statewide voter database is programmed to ensure that no one that is ineligible to vote is sent a ballot.

    Sasha - If this was true, then non citizens would not received ballots. As our Democratic voice at the naturalization hearing can attest, dozens of non citizens have been registered, AND VOTED, for years. This one needs a tweak.

  • Karla (unverified)
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    Our statewide voter database is programmed to ensure that no one that is ineligible to vote is sent a ballot.

    Sasha - If this was true, then non citizens would not received ballots. As our Democratic voice at the naturalization hearing can attest, dozens of non citizens have been registered, AND VOTED, for years. This one needs a tweak.

  • (Show?)

    SB951 is a feel good bill, but is it fixing a problem that does not exist? Does anyone have any evidence that voter registration materials are not already available to students? College campuses, in my experience, are among the most politicized environments around.

    Why put this burden on the institutions? They are already underfunded in Oregon as it is, and I don't suppose that this bill provides any money for the advertising and processing costs that it mandates.

    Look closely at the bill: it requires administrations to work with student governments, thus assuming that these student governments are competent to assess a voter registration effort. It requires that all students receive voter registration information (why is this the responsibility of the school? Shouldn't the state be sending out this information?) What about students who are not residents?

    (3) Address the distribution and collection of voter registration cards, as defined in ORS 247.002, during the first three weeks of each academic term;

    You mean that the College is going to have to distribute and collect this information?

    (5) Require college and institution administrators to communicate with faculty, staff and students about deadlines for voter registration; and

    Gosh, how annoying that is going to be, getting a standard blast email a few weeks before every election "reminding" me about a registration deadline.

    Jenni, I'm unhappy that some colleges did not cooperate with what (I'd assume) was a non-partisan voter registration effort, but give them a bit of slack: they are dealing with constant efforts to contact their students, from organizations both commercial and political. I can easily see why the stock response would be to say "no" to everyone.

  • (Show?)

    As a high school teacher, I am certainly looking forward to making this process a part of my class. The students have the opportunity to produce a live election night broadcast and interview the candidates and bring in spokespeople for the various issues and now, armed with that knowledge, they can have something to look forward to in the future.

  • (Show?)

    Student governments are some of the best organizations to assess and administer voter registration efforts. It is the student governments that organizations like the OSA and the Bus Project go to when organizing voter registration campaigns on college campuses. What I see with this bill is not a huge jump in tasks and overly expensive workloads for college administrations. Most colleges have the infrastructure in place already. It is just mostly overseen by student organizations and faculty. That doesn't have to change. What I see this legislation doing is opening up channels to make the process of voter registration ,and therefore involvement, more systemic and easier to administer year in and year out. Students graduate and move on. Faculty and administrations tend to be around alot longer. Without their involvement and concerted effort, there is little point in putting much effort into getting students civically involved because it won't last.

    Something I wanted to add to my previous post. In the general discussion of students, I think we need to expand what that means to most folks. For example, there are 388,000 community college students in Oregon. 88,000, alone, attend Portland Community College. PCC is the largest post-secondary system in the state. The average age of a PCC student is 34-36 years old. On average, 80% of college freshmen move to a four-year university after attending some portion of the community college system. Lack of civic engagement is a much larger issue than lack of K-12 education and NO Child Left Behind (although I very much agree that these issues are huge, particularly if this administration succeeds in applying the NCLB mandates to the post-secondary system, which it is trying to do).
    My experience with students who are not always 18 year old fresh faces, is that they are very grateful for anything that helps them to be involved in between classes, working full-time and caring for their kids. I can't even count the number of students who have told me that they wouldn't have registered if they hadn't been able to stop at the information booth, or the business office and fill out a form. They don't have time to even think about it long enough to remember to do it, much less make a special trip to the elections office to register.

    While most administrators I know really care about their students and their school,I have experienced administrators that don't really care much for students (college positions are notorious stepping stones into higher politics), and it is for those people that I believe this legislation is really intended. College is highly beaurocratic, and isn't easily moved without outside impetus. Well, here it is.

  • (Show?)
    Sasha - If this was true, then non citizens would not received ballots. As our Democratic voice at the naturalization hearing can attest, dozens of non citizens have been registered, AND VOTED, for years. This one needs a tweak.

    I beg your pardon? Source this, please.

  • James X. (unverified)
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    Non-citizen voters is a non-issue.

  • karla (unverified)
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    **Sasha - If this was true, then non citizens would not received ballots. As our Democratic voice at the naturalization hearing can attest, dozens of non citizens have been registered, AND VOTED, for years. This one needs a tweak.

    I beg your pardon? Source this, please.**

    Terry Osbourne, Democratic Representative to the Federal Naturalization Hearings held at the US Courthouse here in Portland. or the Republican Representative or the Portland Chamber of Commerce Representative or the court clerk. This is no secret. Just needs a smidge of an ID effort. No biggie.

  • (Show?)

    "Terry Osbourne, Democratic Representative to the Federal Naturalization Hearings held at the US Courthouse here in Portland. or the Republican Representative or the Portland Chamber of Commerce Representative or the court clerk. This is no secret. Just needs a smidge of an ID effort. No biggie."

    How would any of these people know? None of them work for the Secretary of State of Oregon, which has identified only 2 prosecutable cases in 16 years.

  • karla (unverified)
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    The resident aliens ADMIT IT. Don't be so dense. :-)

  • karla (unverified)
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    and the correct phrase, is "the Secretary of State of Oregon, which has identified only 2 cases in 16 years that they were willing to prosecute." let's leave the semantics to the repugs.

  • (Show?)
    <h2>which resident aliens? Who? I need those dozens of names, please. Christ--name just three. Otherwise you still have absolutely nothing.</h2>
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