Students at Fordham and Nationwide Run into Voting Problems, Misinformation

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Young voters nationwide encountered problems with absentee ballots, scams, confusion and misinformation. (Steven M. Falk/Philadelphia Daily News/MCT)

By Anndrew Vacca
Staff Writer
Published: November 13, 2008

Reports of problems affecting young voters were widespread this election season, ranging from delayed absentee ballots and distribution of misinformation to blatant attempts to suppress the youth vote. However, in spite of these issues, preliminary estimates of the turnout among young voters, according to the Arizona Republic, stand between 50 and 54.2 percent, up from 42 percent in 2000.

Some of the issues with voting, specifically confusion regarding absentee voting, hit especially close to home for some Fordham students, including Megan Branch, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’11. Branch, a Florida resident, is unsure if her vote even counted. After months of struggling to get her absentee ballot, she finally turned to an online application to receive it.

Branch applied for her absentee ballot three months in advance for Florida’s primary election. She never received her ballot. “I was told over the phone that my ballot would be sent in a few days—I never received it,” she said.

Last month Branch called her local supervisor of elections for a general election absentee ballot.

“I was asked a ridiculous amount of stupid questions by the woman taking down my information,” Branch said. The woman questioned Branch about her student status and her permanent address before Branch became discouraged. “I eventually … hung up. I requested a ballot online a week or so later.”

Confusion regarding absentee voting has been the most widely reported problem Fordham students have faced, according to Arlene Pancza Graham, assistant dean for freshmen and sophomores at FCLC. Graham stated that many students were unclear about their state’s specific rules for voting via absentee.

Graham encountered students who wanted their ballots faxed to their home states, a procedure that is allowed in some but not all states.

“I cannot say with certainty that the students I spoke to were being scammed, but I do think it’s worth bringing such schemes to the attention of our students, many of whom are first-time voters,” Graham said.

Ella Ceron, FCLC ’11, also had problems with her absentee ballot. A resident of Los Angeles, Ceron simultaneously registered to vote and applied for her absentee ballot.

“They sent me back a letter saying that I wasn’t even registered, so I couldn’t vote absentee, and to please register to get my ballot,” she said.

“I had to send something back registering myself again, and I finally got the ballot and the voting card to mail in,” Ceron said.

The widespread misinformation and confusion about absentee voting led Graham to send out a campus-wide e-mail informing students about extensive student voter disenfranchisement. The e-mail also urged students to make sure that they followed their state-specific laws.

The e-mail stated, “College students are expected to be a major voting block in this year’s election…Recent media reports have identified college students as one of several groups who are being targeted for disenfranchisement.” The e-mail included a link to Canivote.org, a Web site that will verify a voter’s eligibilty and status.

Canivote.org is among a number of organizations dedicated to informing and energizing voters. Web sites such as Rockthevote.com have poured millions of dollars into urging the youth to register to vote. Even the candidates’ own Web sites include links to register to vote and guidelines about voting.

In addition to absentee confusion, students across the country encountered a number of other problems while trying to vote. Mentioned in a recent AP article is a report of election officials warning students that voting anywhere other than their hometown will lead them to lose their student loans. The article refers to a letter sent out by officials in Montgomery County, Va. telling students that voting at college will declare them as non-dependents, which could possibly lead to a loss of financial aid. However, according to Fairvote.org, a Supreme Court ruling in 1979 clearly gives students the right to vote in the communities in which they attend school.

ABC news reported on an apparent attempt to suppress the student vote in Florida, where students at the University of Florida received text messages urging Democratic voters to vote on Nov. 5, due to “high voter turnout.” The article stated that the texts came from an anonymous source and affected several students on campus. The administration took notice and sent out an e-mail to students to correct the false information.

After hearing horror stories of absentee headaches and misinformation, Sarah Shultz, FCLC ’11, said that the only way to feel safe while voting is to do it the old fashioned way. Shultz traveled home to Pennsylvania to vote in person.

“It was the conventional paper ballot,” Shultz said. “I know my vote was counted.”