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Student groups facilitate absentee voting

Friday, September 19, 2008

For most Americans, voting means a quick trip down to the local polling center and marking a box or two on a ballot. But many college students’ states of residency may be miles away from their schools’ campuses.

Two student initiatives that aim to streamline absentee ballot requests are helping students easily find the resources they need to vote.

One such initiative, BeCounted, is a Facebook application that allows its users to register to vote and request absentee ballots.

It also helps students compare whether their votes counts more in their home or school states.

Noah Kraft ’09, a friend of Stanford senior Andrew Ehrich, who helped create BeCounted, said the site was made in response to the frustration he and others felt when trying to find information online for registering to vote.

After gathering each state’s information about registering to vote and signing up for absentee ballots, the creators of BeCounted condensed their materials into the Facebook application Kraft said.

Kraft has been publicizing the application on behalf of Ehrich, speaking to friends and classmates and encouraging them to add the Facebook application.

And while the application is non-partisan and provides features for users of various party affiliations, Kraft said, it logs statistics showing where users are voting and which campuses are particularly active – information that is valuable for voting agencies who would want to identify states and schools for voter outreach.

“It’s an opportunity to help my peers, help the voting process … and help the country,” Kraft said.

Sam Oliker-Friedland ’09 has also helped found a Web site with a similar purpose:, Oliker-Friedland said, came about as a reaction to the “unbelievably complicated” procedure of requesting an absentee ballot.

The Web site assists users in requesting absentee ballots, which, depending on the state of residency, can be as simple as filling out an online request form or as complicated as completing a several part process of mailing forms back and forth to a town clerk’s office.

The site also offers its users the option to sign up for e-mail updates that will help them throughout the process of voting.

The aim of is to make voting “as easy for voters as possible,” Oliker-Friedland said.

The Web site that takes you step-by-step through the process of registering and requesting absentee ballots is meant to be helpful, not condescending, to young voters, Oliker-Friedland said.

The “driving impulse” behind the initiative, he said, is getting as many people to vote as possible, not just students or young people.

“The country as a whole is healthier when democracy is accessible to everyone,” he said.

Oliker-Friedland said that the often complicated process of registering to vote and requesting an absentee ballot while not physically in the state of residency can prove to be a “barrier.”

As young people, “once we’re registered to vote, we do, and we want to vote,” he said.

“When you remove these barriers, young people will vote.”

The Web site is “more of a tool than a program,” he said, adding that the Web site is, by contractual obligation of the funding it receives and by the wish of the founders, non-partisan.

Ariel Werner ’09, the Get Out the Vote coordinator for Brown Students for Barack Obama, said that she wholly supported these initiatives.

“Absentee voting is hugely important,” she said, adding that college students, many of whom live without land-lines or permanent mailing addresses, can be forgotten in national voter registration pushes.

“18- to 22-year olds,” she said, have become a “disenfranchised community.”

Werner pointed to volatile states like Missouri, Ohio and New Hampshire as key areas in which college students’ votes may play deciding roles in the general election.

“Absentee voting is a way to connect voters to a voting community,” Kraft added.

Sean Quigley ’10, president of the College Republicans and Herald opinions columnist, however, said that he felt that despite the “thin veil of non-partisanship,” the intention of these applications “is to get people to vote for the Democrat.”

“Just inherently, it’s liberal,” Quigley said.

He said that the pressure put on college students to vote has the effect of a “guilt-trip.”

“It’s always a crisis, a crisis of the young not voting,” he said. “When was it never a crisis?”

Werner, Kraft, and Oliker-Friedland all urged students to research the absentee voting regulations for whichever state they plan to vote in, no matter which ticket they choose to endorse.

Many states, Oliker-Friedland said, will require voters to register for a ballot in the next two to three weeks.

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