College Students’ Right to Vote Challenged
In his recent speech to a Tea Party organization in Rochester, N.H., state House Speaker William O’Brien stated that college voters are foolish and vote for liberal candidates only because they “lack life experience” and “vote with their feelings,” according to the Washington Post.
The speech addressed proposed updates to New Hampshire voting laws, which include a bill requiring students to declare residency prior to elections if they intend on voting in their college towns.
Many, including University of Mary Washington Young Democrat’s President Ryan Gallasch, feel that the bill and the speech are meant to target college students.
“The main problem I see is that he feels that a large portion of the people he represents opinions are not evaluable even though they are affected by any problems in his local area,” Gallasch said. “He is elected to represent everyone and not just those who he thinks are worthy.”
In his speech, O’Brien pointed to Plymouth, N.H. as a town that saw many out-of-state students vote and “[take] away the town’s ability to govern themselves.”
According to Fredericksburg’s voter registrar, Juanita Pitchford, few college students even vote in local elections.
“They voted extensively in 2010,” Pitchford said. “We find that they vote more for federal than local elections.”
Regarding the accusation that college students are not informed on local elections, Pitchford stated that a remedy for ignorance is not hard.
“Any student can read the paper or pay attention to local media,” Pitchford said.
College organizations, including the UMW Young Democrats and the UMW College Republicans, also seek to inform students about political issues.
“We mainly focus on national and congressional issues but whenever a candidate running for office wants to speak with us or needs our help we are more than happy to help,” Gallasch said. “And in helping that can mean informing students about local issues.”
UMW’s College Republicans President Erica Gouse said, “I believe that College Students should have the right to vote where they attend school. We spend majority of our time during the year in Fredericksburg, if not all of it, so we should be a part of the decisions that are being made on the state and local levels.”
“I feel they are educated enough to vote in local elections as they live in the city and have knowledge of local issues based on their hometown experience,” Gallasch said.
Sophomore Gustavo Castillo also feels like college-age voters should be able to vote in local elections.
“The majority of college students are over 18,” Castillo said. “And they are getting a higher education. Only seven percent of the world has a higher education. We are definitely educated enough to vote.”
Junior Mandi Solomon agrees with Castillo.
“No, we should not be prohibited from voting,” Solomon said. “We are more educated and more up to date on policy because we are in college.”
According to Gallasch, Fredericksburg is a more friendly college voter city than most.
“They do not give students any hassle when voting or registering,” he said.
According to Pitchford, she actively seeks student voters for registration. Every year the assistant registrar attends the multi-cultural fair to sign up students. They supply students with national registration, so they are able to register for whichever locality throughout the United States in which they would like to vote.
“We look for freshmen who have not yet registered to give them the opportunity to,” Pitchford said.
The Young Democrats also seek out students for voter registration.
“We register students locally because they live here and often are not registered at home so this is where they will become involved,” Gallasch said. “We table and go into the dorms to register students.”
“While I think Speaker O’Brien was crass when talking about college voter’s ideology I think he raises a good point,” Gouse said. “Many students are not educated voters and follow the mainstream trend to vote for a specific party without considering the facts. I wish to see more students take an interest in the issues and become more informed on the candidates.”