On Sept. 15, Chair of the Communication Studies Department Denise Bostdorff sent an email detailing options for students to cast their votes this election. Bostdorff explained two options — registering in the student’s hometown or registering in Wooster — and clarified the methods students can choose from in case they decide to register in Wooster.
“Students may choose to register and vote back home because of an interest in local issues there,” Bostdorff mentioned in her email. “If you do so, you either will need to vote in person (if home is very nearby) or vote absentee, in which case we recommend that you request and return your absentee ballot two weeks ahead of the deadlines, given potential issues with postal delivery.” Students are able to check their local Board of Elections (BOE) for deadlines pertinent to registration and absentee voting.
To register to vote in Wooster, people will need an Ohio driver’s license with a local address or the last four digits of their Social Security number. Bostdorff added, “If you were previously registered to vote and moved into a new residence hall, you need to change your address or re-register.” The email also clarified that “a student’s address on campus is the street address of your residence hall [or] campus house.”
Moreover, students, faculty and staff will be able to register to vote at the Lowry Center. The tabling hours are: Monday 12:30-2 p.m. and 4:30-6 p.m., Tuesday 12:30-2 p.m., Wednesday 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m. and 4:30-6 p.m., Thursday 12:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and Friday 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m. and 4:30-6 p.m.
The three methods students can choose in case they decide to register to vote in Wooster are: requesting an absentee ballot, voting in-person before the election and voting in-person on Election Day.
Students are able to request absentee ballots and return them to the BOE either by mail or by placing it in the drop box outside of Wooster’s BOE on 200 Vanover St. Absentee ballots can be requested online once the voter’s registration has been processed.
Bostdorff stressed the importance of following the directions on the ballot and envelope so as to ensure your vote is counted. These ballots must be postmarked at least one day before the election on Nov. 3. In order to achieve this, Bostdorff recommends mailing ballots by Thursday, Oct. 22 or bringing them to the BOE no later than Tuesday, Nov. 3. Bostdorff continued, “In Ohio, only a close relative is legally permitted to drop off a ballot for someone else. This option is a safe one for students concerned about COVID-19 or for our students who may feel vulnerable going to the polls in the current political climate; it is also convenient. Absentee ballots will be sent starting Oct. 6.”
The second option is voting in-person. Bostdorff urged the students who have decided to vote in person to vote early at the BOE, specifically between Oct. 6 and Nov. 2. “Voting early in person avoids the uncertainty of the mail,” Bostdorff said. “You just need to provide the last four digits of your Social Security number in order to vote early. The complete schedule for early voting can be found on the [Ohio Secretary of State website].”
The third option is the most traditional in-person voting option, which is to physically go to your polling place on Election Day on Nov. 3. “If you do so, you will need to provide a utility bill letter as a form of I.D., which the College will provide,” Bostdorff said.
However, voting in person this year comes with several challenges. “Voting on Election Day can seem more special to some students, and, if you vote successfully, your vote will be counted,” Bostdorff mentioned before highlighting some obstacles. “The disadvantages are that the campus is divided into three different precincts, with locales subject to change due to COVID-19 and the need for poll workers this year.”
She continued, “In addition, some concerns exist about possible voter intimidation at the polls in this highly contentious year. Finally, you have to be sure that your class and work schedule will permit enough time to get to the polls and back, so convenience might be an issue.”
Challenges also persist in other methods of voting. “[Another challenge is] the uncertainty of mail delivery for students who are requesting and returning absentee ballots,” Bostdorff commented. “For that reason, we recommend that students who are already registered to vote at their correct address request an absentee ballot as soon as possible and mail the completed ballot by Oct. 22 so that it is postmarked well in advance of the Nov. 2 deadline. Alternatively, students here on campus can return their completed absentee ballot to the lock box outside the Wayne County Board of Elections at 200 Vanover St.”
Another recurring challenge is that students have relatively little to no experience voting. “The process is new and can seem a bit intimidating … and [hence] more complicated for students,” Bostdorff said. “For example, students need to register by using the street address of the dorm where they reside, not their Lowry mailing address and, if they have moved, they need to complete a change of address for their registration.”
Halen Gifford ’21, campus election engagement intern, also expressed her concern regarding the challenges.
“Aside from COVID-19, we face a lot of the same challenges that we do every year,” Gifford said. “Many Americans are met with barriers when it comes to registering to vote and engaging in elections due to systematic voter suppression. This definitely includes college students. I have heard firsthand from members of the BOE that they do not want Wooster students voting in Wayne County. And while there is an argument to be made about us only being temporary residents, this is still our home for four years and it is often most accessible for students to vote in the physical location that they live. We always just have to make sure that we communicate to students that they have every right to vote in Wooster and then support them in doing so.”
Gifford added, “Honestly, it is hard to think of other challenges since so much of the work we have been doing this semester has been problem-solving due to COVID-19. Election engagement takes a lot of planning and certainty, which is very hard to ensure at this time. Bostdorff and I have been working with staff, faculty and administrators to try and make sure that students can access the resources they need while also balancing their safety.”
For additional resources and help, students can check out the Student Voting website, www.wooster.edu/offices/dean-of-students/voting/. Both Bostdorff and Gifford also urged students to reach out to their emails, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, regarding questions about voting this year. The Campus Election Engagement Project is also hosting two “Walk to Vote” events on Saturday, Oct. 24, and Saturday, Oct. 31, to encourage students to walk with friends to the polls to vote.