Students Received Absentee Ballots Too Late To Voice Choices

This story was written by Rachel Kopilow, Daily Northwestern
Pundits are saying young voters will play a huge role in this year's presidential election. Whether those votes count might depend on the absentee voting system.

Problems voting absentee, from mailroom issues to Web site glitches, hit college students hard because they are often out of state during the election season. Northwestern students who had trouble getting their absentee ballots in time to vote said they are upset and that they feel disenfranchised.

"In the state of California where the youth overwhelmingly support Obama, I wonder if the uncounted votes would have made a difference," said Stella Stahl, a Communication freshman from California. "It's factors like these that contribute to young voters being apathetic."

Stahl applied for an absentee ballot a week before the deadline. Worried when it hadn't arrived a week later, she called the Los Angeles County Registrar's Office to check on the ballot's status. She was told it was sent and would arrive by Feb. 1.

It didn't arrive in her mailbox until the night of Feb. 5 - the night the polls closed for the California primary.

She said she blames the NU mailroom system for the delay.

"There were a lot of factors that contributed to Obama's loss in California," said Leah Nelson, the campus coordinator of Students for Barack Obama. One of them could have been an error in the absentee ballot system, the Communication senior said.

Students wonder if the fact that they didn't get their mail reflects a larger problem with the dorm mailrooms.

When Kyrsten Brown didn't get an important piece of mail she was expecting, she went to the 1835 Hinman mailroom to investigate. The students working there allowed her to search through the mail.

Paychecks, bills and an absentee ballot were strewn in the bin, she said. The unorganized mailrooms might have contributed to students not receiving their absentee ballots in time, the SESP freshman said.

"Sometimes we don't deliver PARC mail because there are only a few pieces of mail to deliver or because the last person with the key forgets to return it immediately," said Nina Fernandez, a McCormick freshman. Fernandez works in the Allison Hall mailroom that collects and delivers mail to the neighboring Public Affairs Residential College.

Sometimes students' absentee ballots bypassed the mailroom entirely.

Taylor Heisley-Cook, a Communication freshman, said her absentee ballot arrived at her house - not at school - the day of the election.

"I was really upset to find out I never got my absentee ballot," she said. "Even if I was at my house, it would've been too late to mail it."

There were other problems with the absentee ballot system that prevented students from voting besides the mailroom, said Nelson.

"The rules are different for each state, which makes it complicated," she said. "Information is not readily available."

Voting problems in Georgia prevented Emily Garrett, a Weinberg freshman, from sending in an absentee ballot.

"The Board of Elections did not put up the downloadable form on the Web site (to apply for an absentee ballot) before the deadline," she said.

When the Web site finally had the form, it was useless to fill it out because the cut-off date to submit it had passed, Garrett said.

With many college students eligible to vote in a presidential election for the first time, problems with the system might discourage them.

Stahl said she was disappointed that she didn't get to vote in her first Presidential primary.

"These problems provide justification to be apathetic at a time when it is critical not to be," she said.

© 2008 Daily Northwestern via U-WIRE