GOP Bill Would Loosen Rules on Registering Students to Vote

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By Emily Wilkins

Colleges and universities will face fewer requirements to ensure their students are registered to vote under a comprehensive higher education bill released by House Republicans last week.

The bill (H.R. 4508), set to be marked up Dec. 12, would still require schools to make a good faith effort to distribute voter registration forms for students who are both enrolled and physically in attendance. But it would eliminate a deadline requiring schools to request voter registration forms from the state 120 days prior to the deadline for registering.

Under the bill, schools would no longer be required to send out an email exclusively on voter registration, which could lead to information on voter registration being “buried in a long line of communications about school activities,” said Clarissa Unger, director of civic engagement at the advocacy group Young Invincibles.

“Removing these provisions will remove any specificity in the guidelines about how schools support their students in regards to voter registration,” Unger said. “It would take away the timeline and clarity schools should provide for not just presidential elections but major state elections.”

Voting on Campus

College students aren’t known for high turnouts at the ballot box. In the 2016 general election, only 48 percent of college and university students voted, according to a study of 10 million voting records by the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement.

The low turnout makes it all the more important for colleges to help students register to vote, said Nancy Thomas, director at the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education at Tufts University.

“The last thing we need to do is add more barriers to student voting,” Thomas said. “One of the barriers is the technical side of it, that students don’t really know what to do, they don’t know where to send things in, how to find the forms.”

In addition to removing the standards for schools to follow in obtaining and distributing voter registration forms, Thomas said the bill could send a symbolic message to colleges.

“It is useful for colleges and universities to be reminded of their obligation to educate the next generation of participating citizens,” she said.

Young Invincibles is working with lawmakers to change the language in the bill to perverse the current bill language, Unger said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at ewilkins@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com

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