Absentee voting may not attract students

Even if proposed changes to Connecticut elections bring more voters to the polls, Yalies may not be among them.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill unveiled exhaustive election reforms last week, including one, no-excuse absentee voting, that is designed to boost voter turnout by making voting easier. But while the expansion of Connecticut’s absentee ballot program, which currently restricts mail-in voting to the sick, elderly or out-of-state, may increase voter turnout overall, it is not likely to change the number of Yalies who vote, or how they do so, student and city activists said.

Av Harris, Merrill’s spokesman, said that of the secretary’s proposals, the constitutional amendment to allow for mail-in voting is most likely to impact students.

“The constitutional amendment is the one thing that could really improve the ability of students, and all voters, really, to vote,” Harris said. “But I think of students in particular because their schedules are so varied and it does become an issue of convenience,” Harris said, noting that not one university in the state has a polling station on campus.

At Yale, the biggest challenge campus organizers face is not getting people to the polls on Election Day. Instead, the problem is getting people to register to vote in Connecticut in the first place, said Marina Keegan, president of the Yale College Democrats. Roughly 1,100 students vote in Ward 1, and Keegan said the majority of those students vote at the New Haven Free Public Library, the ward’s Elm Street polling station.

“I think we miss the most votes from people who say, ‘Oh no, no, I’m gonna vote absentee at home,’” Keegan said, adding that they have no way of knowing how many of these people actually end up voting. “But it’s kind of a pain to vote absentee in your home state.”

Any type of absentee voting can be a pain for students, said New Haven Democratic Town Chair Susie Voigt. A former Yale employee herself, Voigt noted that students do not often check their mail, many do not have stamps on hand and going to the post office at all can be a hassle in itself.

“I never want to go to that post office — the line is like two miles long,” Voigt said of Yale Station.

As a result, Voigt said she doubts expanding absentee voting to anyone who wants to vote by mail will encourage Yalies to vote in Connecticut. And Michael Knowles ’12, an active Republican on campus, said he thinks students who want to vote will find a way to vote, and that the current system is not prohibitively difficult.

But Voight said that setting up an online voting system could promote students to vote in the state. Though it may not be coming any time soon, Voigt said she thinks a secure system of online voting could be the best way to increase turnout.

The secretary’s office is on the lookout for technology to make online voting possible, Harris said, but as of now the technology does not contain the necessary security checks.

“We’re watching very closely, and I think if we do see technology emerge that does satisfy the security concerns, it might be something worth exploring,” Harris said, adding that he thinks it is still at least a few years out.

In order for the Connecticut State Constitution to be amended, the General Assembly must pass a measure by a two-thirds vote, and the amendment must be put to a public vote. Merrill said last week that she hopes the amendment will be on the November 2012 general election ballot.

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