Virginia’s Democratic primary election will take place on March 3 during UMW’s spring break. As a result, students registered to vote in Fredericksburg will need to either vote absentee or commute to their polling location to cast their ballot.
Unfamiliar with the absentee voting process, some students have voiced concern.
“Since I’ll be out of the country on vacation during the voting period, I’m worried about how I’m going to be able to vote in this election,” said freshman and psychology major Carson Miller. “My only option, the absentee voting system, is really confusing.”
For sophomore Patrick Healy, finding a way to vote has been an especially trying task.
The double major in political science and economics decided to register in Fredericksburg and originally had no problems.
“It was better for me in the 2019 elections to vote here than to try voting back home,” he said. However, when he applied to vote absentee for the upcoming primary election, his application was rejected. “They had declined it on the basis that school is still in session, but we’re not when the primary is.”
Instead of driving up to his voting precinct on election day, Healy will be voting absentee in-person. According to the Fredericksburg, Va. website, voters already registered in Fredericksburg can go to the general registrar’s office on 601 Caroline St. within 45 days of the election to vote absentee in-person. The last day to do so is March 1.
“It’s not fun having to go all the way into downtown just to vote,” he said. “I think it definitely makes it more difficult because we’re approaching midterms right before [the election] so of course people are going to be distracted. It’s really a matter of whether people are really that determined to vote.”
The absentee voting system can be somewhat unpredictable, so some young voters have elected to make the drive back to Fredericksburg on election day.
“I have voted absentee here before in the primaries a year ago. That’s part of the reason why I’m going to come up here and [vote]. It’s easier than applying for the absentee ballot and not really know if I’m going to be able to vote or not,” said junior Sam Hartz, an American Studies major and president of the UMW Young Democrats. He says the drive will likely take him three hours.
The UMW Young Democrats club has been discussing how to best inform the community of their options for voting in the upcoming primary election.
“So far it’s just being talked about in meetings, but we are looking at doing tabling or making flyers, things like that, or partnering up with other groups on campus like UMW Votes to try to get that out there,” said Hartz.
According to Healy, a member of the executive board for Young Democrats, the club is also planning to conduct a poll asking students who they support for the president and where they are registered to vote.
“We’ll be giving out information about how to vote in the primary, how to vote absentee, how you can vote if you’re still in Fredericksburg at the time or if you’re registered to vote at home,” said Healy.
UMW For Bernie, a club supporting Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, has been canvassing and handing out absentee applications.
“Most of the people that I talked to were registered here in Fredericksburg,” said freshman Addy Reeher, a political science major and one of the canvassers for the club. “When they found out that [the election] was during spring break, a lot of them seemed worried about being able to vote, but were relieved about being able to vote absentee.”
But problems with voting are not unique to UMW. According to The Washington Post, the voting registration applications of 171 students at George Mason University were rejected in fall 2019, as the Fairfax County voting registrar said the campus address was insufficient for determining which precinct the students should vote in.
A bill allowing no-excuse absentee voting going into effect in fall 2020 aims to mitigate this problem.
Despite the obstacles for voting in this primary election, Hartz says he’s never encountered any issues with people registering to vote using a UMW address, and that the Young Democrats will continue to recommend that students register to vote in Fredericksburg instead of their home.
“The timing is complicated for this one, but when it comes around to the general election, it’ll be so much easier,” said Hartz. “We do rides from the bell tower and from Anderson all day long on election day. You spend nine months of the year here. You live in Fredericksburg, and it just makes sense that you be represented by people who represent Fredericksburg.”