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Absentee Ballots

Registration efforts lacking at universities across the country

Tuesday, September 29, 2004

By Dave Robbie

The Daily Orange

As the Oct. 8 deadline approaches for voter registration in the presidential election, several prominent members of Congress are worried colleges and universities aren't doing enough to register young voters.

House of Representatives minority leader Nancy Pelosi and nine other Democrats sent a letter to the Association of American Universities and eight other higher education organizations Thursday, alerting them that a large portion of publicly funded universities were failing to make basic efforts to register their students to vote, in direct violation of federal law.

The letter was based upon a study done by the Harvard Institute for Politics and the Chronicle of Higher Education, which showed that a third of public universities failed to distribute any mail-in voter registration packets and have them readily available on campus as mandated by the Higher Education Act of 1998.

"We are constantly asking young people to engage more in their communities and in government. So it is only right that we provide every opportunity for them to vote," said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), senior Democrat on the House Education Committee and one of the 10 who signed the letter. "Since colleges and universities are uniquely equipped to help engage more young people in voting, we need them to make every effort to boost voter registration opportunities."

As a private institution, Syracuse University does not have to comply with the Higher Education Act, but it still tries to encourage student voter registration, said Karen Ventrone, SU's government and community relations specialist.

Over the summer, the university sent voter registration forms in the mail to all full-time and part-time students with a copy of the Syracuse Record, Ventrone said. The university also had voter registration tables set up at orientation and other university events, as well as forms available at major campus locations such as the Schine Student Center, Hendricks Chapel and Goldstein Student Center on South Campus.

"It's (a student's) duty, their civic responsibility to (vote)," Ventrone said. "And if they do not know what's going on, or what the issues are, then the university is there to help."

Officials at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry pass out voter registration forms during orientation and offer voter registration forms both at the Office of Student Life and the SUNY-ESF Web site, said Leah Flynn, coordinator of student programs for the Office of Student Life.

Both schools have teamed up with the New York Public Interest Research Group to help further their voter registration efforts through access to school facilities and events, such as the Slice of the 'Cuse yesterday at Schine.

"We work mainly with NYPIRG," Flynn said. "NYPIRG usually does most of our efforts."

Voter registration has been NYPIRG's main focus this semester, said Tim Marvin, project coordinator for the SU/SUNY-ESF campus, with the organization registering more than 1,000 students to vote as of last Friday.

The universities have helped in this cause, Marvin said, with SU providing registration forms and inviting NYPIRG to school events and residence halls, and SUNY-ESF giving NYPIRG access to school facilities. Political events such as the Michael Moore speech at the Carrier Dome have also helped the organization, with 300 people registered at that event alone.

NYPIRG is now looking for sites on and off campus, targeting areas and students that the organization might have missed over the past month.

"We're looking for an event to get the last string that we haven't seen before," Marvin said. "It's not like we're at Schine getting 60 people - we're trying to get to places where people haven't seen us before."

NYPIRG is hoping to register more than 2,000 students, something that Marvin admits is probably out of reach due to the approaching deadline for the presidential election.

"Voting has become such a huge thing; it seems like every other organization has been out there registering people to vote," Marvin said. "So it's not just NYPIRG anymore, which is a good thing."


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