By: Alexis Earp, Senior
Admission letters are received. Enrollment fees are paid. Students pack their belongings and move to a new place to continue their education. With all of the stress and excitement that comes with starting college, many students will forget about other important milestones that often coincide with the beginning of their post-secondary schooling. One of these milestones: voting for the first time. While some students may have had the opportunity to vote when they were seniors in high school, for many, the first election in which they are eligible to vote occurs during college. Registering to vote and casting a ballot can be confusing for anyone who has never voted before and doing so while away from home can make the process even more challenging. So, if you are or know a college student, what can you do to ensure the process goes smoothly?
Before you think about how to register or cast a ballot, you should research what will be on your ballot. Learning about the candidates and ballot questions during each election cycle allows you to cast a well-informed vote, regardless of your age. If you find a candidate whose platform aligns well with your own values, consider volunteering for their campaign if you have the time. Campaigning can help you become more knowledgeable about general political processes, as well as how to make a voting plan for yourself and others. I spoke with Emma Szalewicz, a Marblehead High School Alumna and current senior at Emmanuel College. Szalewicz, who was involved in several political organizations in high school, said, “my involvement in [those] organizations better prepared me to know what I would have to do to be able to vote in college.”
Registering to vote may seem like a daunting task, but in Massachusetts, it is fairly easy. I preregistered to vote when I got my learner’s permit, and when I decided to change my party affiliation about a year later, all I had to do was visit this website: https://www.sec.state.ma.us/ovr/ In addition to containing instructions for changing party affiliation, this site also has information for those who wish to register or preregister, update their address or name, or check their registration status. If you are registered with the correct address, checking your registration on that site will give you the address of your polling place, as well as the names of your current representatives in the Massachusetts state government.
Once you have registered, making a voting plan is crucial. If your campus is near the address at which you are registered, or if you live at the address at which you are registered and commute to school, all you need to do is find your polling place, its hours of operation, and a time when you can stop by to cast your vote. If you live on a campus that is far away from the address at which you are registered to vote, you can request an absentee ballot. During Szalewicz’s freshman year of college, she attended Long Island University Global in Heredia, Costa Rica. She requested an absentee ballot for the 2018 general election before she left Marblehead and received it in October of that year. When I asked Szalewicz about the process of casting an absentee ballot, she replied, “I…simply filled it in, scanned it, and emailed it back to the Town Clerk. Being abroad, I was worried the process may be challenging but was relieved to discover the opposite to be true.”
Colleges and universities also have many organizations that assist students with the registration process. Irina Costache, another senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, recalled that the school’s branch of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) had clipboards so students could register. “Some of [my friends] hadn’t registered to vote at all,” Costache mentioned as she told the story of how she got a large group of people to register. Sophia Gardner, another senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, explained that going into college, she did not know what she would need to do to vote in college, saying, “I definitely needed organizations like MASSPIRG and get out the vote organizations to help me along.” Thanks to the efforts of groups like MASSPIRG, the process of registering once on-campus is simple.
Voting is important, even when it is difficult. No matter your stage in life or political experience, you should register for the upcoming elections to make your voice heard. In the words of Alex Genovese, a political science major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, “Just vote. It’s important.”