With midterm elections approaching rapidly, many Brown students have encountered barriers to voting as a college student.
This election day will mark the second consecutive election year that the University has given a holiday for students, staff and faculty for voting. Despite the day off, some students continue to face voting difficulties.
For Brown students who hail from outside of Rhode Island and must decide whether to register in Rhode Island or vote absentee, the process can be accompanied by several deadlines.
Adam Brandt ’24, civic engagement fellow at Brown Votes, said the discrepancy between college and home addresses could lead to difficulty accessing ballots if students forget to switch their registration address. This could lead to their ballot being sent to their hometown address rather than College Hill. He said the issue is especially common among first-year students, who register before coming to Brown when they don’t yet have a college address.
Another barrier noted by both Brandt and Irene Sung ’23, Every Vote Counts vice president of community, is specific to Rhode Island: The state doesn’t permit online voter registration without a Rhode Island ID. This can make it difficult for voters who need to make last-minute changes to their registration and can only make those changes in person — a task that can be challenging given most students’ busy schedules, they said.
“The other day, I didn’t realize that I didn’t update my address and it showed up on TurboVote that I wasn’t registered to vote … and I freaked out,” said Sung. TurboVote is a tool that allows students to register, check their registration status and receive voting reminders. “I think the deadline for Rhode Island was Oct. 9 to update something as simple as your address, but I don’t have a state ID or a driver’s license, so that means I couldn’t (make that change) online.”
Tight deadlines throughout the election process are one of the most significant challenges that prevent students from voting, EVC Vice President of Advocacy Fausto Rojas ’23 said.
“It’s important to (request a ballot and check your voter registration) earlier rather than later,” Rojas said. “As soon as you recognize you need to get something done, you do it.”
Brandt also noted that there are different deadlines for registering by mail versus in person and voting by mail, so awareness is key.
Assumptions can play a part in missed opportunities to vote, Rojas added. State policies about voting vary drastically, and students can encounter difficulties when they assume Rhode Island operates the same way their home state does.
Sung added that name or address changes, which frequently happen in college, can also lead to voter registration status changing, so students shouldn’t assume they’re registered to vote just because they voted in the prior election.
It’s important to be cognizant of who is actually targeted by voter outreach and by political messaging in general, Sung said. “Outreach is very widespread among people who are already planning on voting,” but “it’s not reaching people who don’t know anything about politics or voting in general.”
In addition, race and class inequities can compound issues of voter access, Sung said.
Brandt added that even if civic engagement isn’t discouraged, it may be less facilitated in certain communities that have been historically disenfranchised.
“It’s not just that the resources aren’t available, but that the desire and willingness to register and participate isn’t there because the voter fatigue is real,” Brandt said. “People (can get) disillusioned and dismayed with the voting system, especially if (they’re) in a community (that’s) been historically marginalized by the people in positions of power.”
Sung said voting organizations and politicians must prioritize these communities, making clear that voting leads to better representation and to holding officials accountable in the long-term.
“On behalf of the Asian-American and the Korean-American community, I think that a lot of us are disillusioned by the political landscape in general,” Sung said. “When candidates run for office, they don’t necessarily talk about the issues facing the Asian-American community, even though they might be talking about minorities or people of color in general.”
Brandt said that politicians should make an effort to make their platforms more accessible to marginalized communities. He said he could find information about individual candidates’ views on racial equality and LGBTQ rights this year, but that he had to take a deep dive into most candidates’ campaign pages to find that information.
Brandt said the Election Day holiday continues to be a positive change, presenting one less burden for members of the Brown community who want to vote but struggle to fit it into their day.
Anecdotally, Brandt said he believes most students choose to vote absentee in their home state, so he doesn’t think the day off will necessarily lead to more students physically going to polling places in Rhode Island. Brandt and Sung added that they’ve seen that many Democrat-registered students who hail from majority-Republican states feel their vote will have more of an impact in their home state.
Jewel Medel ’24, for instance, said she plans to vote by mail in their home state of Texas.
“Especially as a young Latina voter, I really want my voice to be heard in the state of Texas,” Medel added. Especially with voting restrictions implemented by the current state governor, it’s important to vote in their home state, they said.
Anne-Emilie Rouffiac ’24 also intends to vote absentee in Connecticut. “Connecticut really is my home base, so voting in that state felt more right than switching my registration to Rhode Island,” Rouffiac said.
Rouffiac also notes that particular ballot issues influenced her decision; Connecticut's ballot includes an item about permitting or forbidding early voting, an issue Rouffiac says particularly matters to her.
While she hasn’t faced voting barriers due to being at Brown specifically, she did note that she’s still waiting to receive her mail-in ballot, which she requested at least a month ago.
Since she plans to vote absentee, the Election Day holiday won’t necessarily facilitate her voting process. Yet she feels the holiday is important in setting the trend towards making voting more accessible.
“My family is from France, and Election Day there is always on a weekend in order to avoid issues for people who might have work during the week,” Rouffiac said. “I’m a big believer that Election Day should be a national holiday, or at least on a weekend day … so I support the University’s decision.”
She added that the holiday represents the University’s commitment to critical civic engagement. “At least in principle, making that a holiday for the University shows support for people getting out and voting and taking the time to also really think about their vote,” Rouffiac said. “Having some more time and … (having) that day off really helps you make that mental space to think critically about your vote, how important it is and how you want to use it.”
Brandt added that while the Election Day holiday is a step in the right direction for Brown, he believes the University could still be doing more to increase voting awareness. He hopes to see the school introduce Election Day programming in future years and says this is a goal Brown Votes has pushed for.
“Bringing in speakers or events to underline the importance of civic engagement … could be a really valuable use of that time,” Brandt said.
Ultimately, Brandt, Rojas and Sung stressed that the best way to ensure voting runs smoothly is to be proactive in the weeks and days leading up to the election. They recommended that students use TurboVote to double-check their voter registration or to help them register if they haven’t done so yet.
Brandt added that shipping could be difficult at Brown, so students should schedule time in advance to get election materials to the Mail Services.
“The Mail Room does actually provide envelopes and stamps for election mail … so they will be able to send off (a completed ballot or ballot request form) for you at no cost to you,” he said.
For those students wondering when they should start thinking about their voting plan, Sung said there is no time like the present.
“You need to give (yourself) time,” Sung said. “Once you have those dates ingrained … you’re going to get it done.”