Voting Away From Home Difficult For Some Santa Clara U. Students

This story was written by Richard Nieva, The Santa Clara
Santa Clara University junior Mike Ryan, a permanent resident of Chandler, Ariz., said he plans to vote come election day, but has not yet figured out how.

Ryan's plight is a common one for students at Santa Clara, where the out-of-state population comprises about 35 percent of the student body, according to John Regan, senior research analyst for Institutional Research.

These out-of-state students must vote via absentee ballots in order to take part in each of their home state's presidential primary elections.

While California's primary is fast approaching on Feb. 5, other states, which many Santa Clara students call home, will hold their primaries and caucuses later.

According to the National Association of Secretaries of State, Washington will hold a two-step party caucus and presidential primary following California's, with the caucus taking place on Feb. 9 and the primary 10 days later on Feb. 19. Hawaii's will also be on Feb. 19, and Oregon's primary will take place on May 20.

Due to the way a caucus is run, only people actually present in the state at the time may participate in the caucus, while any state resident may vote by absentee ballot in a primary.

To encourage voting, campus organizations are doing their part to rally students, giving them information on voter registration and requesting absentee ballots.

Christine Dafforn, president of the College Democrats, said that the out-of-state population is a very difficult question to address.

"Really what we can practically do on this issue is to encourage people to register to vote, either in California or in their home state," she said, "and try to give them information about what their options are."

The College Democrats sponsored a panel discussion on Tuesday. This came on the heels of a tabling campaign in Benson, which encouraged people to register to vote, as Tuesday was the last day to register in order to be eligible for California's primary.

"We got a surge of people signing up at the last minute," said Dafforn.

The College Republicans held an event drive last weekend at the Cow Palace to encourage students to vote, said its president, Jonas Pauliukonis -- himself an absentee voter, though from Livermore, Calif., and not out of state.

Since the deadline to register in California has lapsed, the event will mainly focus on having absentee voters mail in their ballots, he said. If their voting station is nearby, students will also be able to shuttle back and forth.

Christine Smith, president of the Northern California chapter of the California College Democrats, said that a statewide e-mail was sent out Tuesday urging people to register.

However, when asked about the impact of absentee college voters, Pauliukonis described them as "marginally important."

"College students as a whole don't participate," he said. "But we're definitely encouraging it."

The College Republicans are doing all they can to get students involved, from holding informal debates this week leading up to the primaries, to signing people up to help with phone banking, which consists of putting students in a room with 50 phones and a list of constituents to call and campaign for the party.

This involvement will give students more of a stake in the election, Pauliukonis said.

"All we can do is create opportunities," said Pauliukonis. "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."

Though statistically many may embody that apathetic persona -- 18- to 24-year-olds have historically represented the age group with the lowest voter turnout, according to the U.S. Census Bureau -- there are still some who find it their duty to vote, even if it requires the time to obtain an absentee ballot.

Jnior Caroline Mooser, anticipating her being abroad during the gubernatorial race in her home state of Maryland, drove to her county's voter registration office in midsummer to request a ballot.

Mooser remembered a number of minor inconveniences that occurred on that particular day -- including the heat and parking trouble -- that piled up and would have peeved anyone into going insane, she said.

"I guess in the end it was worth it," she said. "I just really wanted to vote."

Pauliukonis said that absentee voting may also apply to a larger demographic.

"The (Republican) party is trying to get everyone to switch over to absentee ballots," he said, adding that mail-in votes make it easier to keep track of constituencies.

This also leads to a better overall turnout, since it is more convenient for people to vote on their own time, without having to leave work to cast their vote, he said. Absentee voting in California primaries has been increasing, with 8.6 percent of voters using absentee ballots in 1986 and 46.9 percent voting by absentee ballot in 2006, according to the California Secretary of State Debra Bowen's office.

In fact, assembly bill 1243 was passed in California in 2007, changing the terms "absentee ballot" and "absentee voter" to "vote-by-mail ballots" and "vote-by-mail voters," according to reports from Bowen's office.

For Washington's primaries, all voting will be done by mail in all except two of its counties.

Forms are also available to request permanent vote-by-mail ballots. Anyone who wishes to do so can obtain a request form from his or her state's secretary of state department Web site, fill it out, and mail it in.

Different states require a different number of days' notice before an election in order to be considered eligible. However, some mail-in deadlines for applications may have already lapsed. California's deadline was Tuesday, Hawaii's was Monday and Washington's was Jan. 19. In Oregon, the deadline is April 29.
© 2008 The Santa Clara via U-WIRE