Early voting provides flexibility for Nebraska students
Story and photos by Christina Condreay, NewsNetNebraska
Four years ago, just 48 percent of Americans 18 to 24 voted, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Compare that to the more than 65 percent of those older than 24 who voted in the 2008 election.
The percentage of young adults casting ballots is growing; however, voting barriers such as confusion and lack of engagement still exist.
Why? According to election officials, people under 24 are more likely to move multiple times between elections and often list their parent’s address as their permanent residence.
“As a first time voter coming from a small town, being in Lincoln on Election Day is confusing,” said Alix Adams, a senior history and political science major.
For many students, the first step for is to decide where they want to vote. Adams chose to reregister under her Lincoln address. Sophomore Travis Rice says plans to vote in his hometown, Broken Bow, Neb.
“I’ll probably vote early in-person,” the management major said. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to go back home or vote here because I wouldn’t know where to vote.”
Fortunately, making it to the polling place on Nov. 6 isn’t a barrier to Rice or Adams. Nebraska is one of 32 U.S. states that offers no-excuse early voting. This means ballots are sent directly to voters’ current addresses or they can vote in-person at their county election commissioner’s office.
Neal Erikson, Nebraska Deputy Secretary of State for Elections, said early voting allows students and general population flexibility when it comes to casting ballots.
“If [students] are at college, and their college home is their permanent home, they can register to vote here,” he said. “If, on the other hand, they feel they are only at college temporarily and their permanent address is … where they lived prior to coming to college, they can maintain that.”
This flexibility allows students and other residents to vote where it matters most to them.
Once students have decided where to register, they can fill out a generic voter registration form and mail or hand deliver it to that county’s election commission office. In Nebraska, voters must be registered by Oct. 19.
“[Students] need to contact their local county clerk or election commissioner and request an absentee ballot,” said Lancaster County Election Commissioner David Shively.
The absentee request can be made with a form located at the Secretary of State’s website. Shively said voters can also send a letter to their election commissioner with their registered voting address and current mailing address, if it’s a different location.
“[Voters] don’t actually need the form, the commissioner just needs to have the request in writing,” Shively said. “They need a signature on that form.”
These requests can be made as early as 120 days prior to the election, but must be postmarked by Oct. 31.
On Oct. 1, counties began sending out ballots to those who requested them. Voters have until the close of polls on election night to return their ballots.
Oct. 1 is also the first day in-person early voting is available.
“People can still come to the election office and vote there until the day before the election,” Shively said. Rice plans on voting at the Custer County courthouse when he goes home for fall break.
However, Shively cautions against waiting until the last minute.
“If you do it all by mail, do it early,” he said. “Every election we get ballots on Wednesday and Thursday and we can’t count them.”
Many out-of-state students can also vote absentee. Websites like CanIVote.org and LongDistanceVoter.org have information about each state’s voting requirements and can help students figure out where their votes will make the biggest impact.
Carl Snodgrass, the Associate Director of Long Distance Voter, inc., said the non-profit aims to help voters who can’t make it to their polling place.
“People were getting stuck on the extra steps, but that’s changing now. States are responding and trying to make the process as easy as possible.”
With the “where to vote, how to vote” process out of the way, students like Adams and Rice should be able to cast their ballots without any inconvenience. Even though she described herself as a politically involved student, Adams admits she didn’t know about early voting until this election season.
“If I knew all I needed to do to vote early was go to the election commissioner’s office before Election Day, I would have voted like that in 2010,” she said.