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Reps. Chu and Schiff Urge College and University Presidents to Educate Their Students about Right to Vote

August 7, 2012
Press Release

Washington, DC – Today, Reps. Judy Chu (D-El Monte) and Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) joined their congressional colleagues in sending a letter addressed to over 5,800 college and university presidents across the country. In the letter, Chu and Schiff urge institutions of higher education to provide voter registration information and voting guides for first year students during their registration or orientation, as well as educate students on requirements for voting.

“It is vital that every American who wants their voice heard in November has the opportunity to do so,” said Chu.  “Colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to help our democracy’s newest participants ensure their votes are counted, and the letter we are sending today urges them to take that responsibility seriously.  Few things are as sacred in this country as the right to vote. Past generations have fought, bled and died so that we can all participate in our democracy.  As we recognize the 47th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, it is truly sad to see politicians around the country try to erode that law and bring us back to the days when voting was a privilege of the few – not a right of the masses.  Colleges and universities can help fight against these schemes, and I urge their presidents to help prevent voter suppression by actively educating their students about voting come Election Day.”

“Even though the right to vote has greatly expanded over the past century, significant impediments to voting still exist,” said Schiff. “Recently, many state governments have passed laws that will impose new restrictions on who can vote, who can conduct voter registration drives, and when and how voters can cast their ballots. Although these new laws could lower voter registration and turnout across the board, they will disproportionately impact young, elderly, minority, low-income, and disabled voters. In California, all students have the right to vote in local elections, but do not know they have that right. University and college presidents should take the lead in educating those attending their institutions, and I hope that we can encourage them to do so – this election is too important to sit miss.”

The letter that was sent today is below:

Dear ___________

We are writing to express our hope that colleges and universities will take a more active role in educating students in the federal electoral process.  While students are expected to come out to the polls to vote in great numbers this year, more can be done to eliminate the potential barriers that students may face in November.   

Historically, students have faced unique barriers to the polls that have discouraged participation, or prevented individuals from voting entirely.  Restrictive residency and identification requirements, inconveniently located polling places, inadequate distribution of voting equipment and false, misleading and sometimes intimidating information have created difficulties for college students trying to exercise their right to vote.  With state voting registration laws constantly changing, it is increasingly important that students be supplied with complete and correct information about registering to vote and voting.  While we have worked to eliminate these restrictions and obstacles, many remain.  As the leader of an institution for higher education, you are in a unique position to facilitate student participation in the electoral process.

Importantly, student voters are often first time voters.  Studies have shown that if voters cannot register and vote the first time they attempt to exercise this fundamental right, they will be less likely to vote in subsequent elections.  To ensure that all eligible students have an opportunity to vote, we suggest you consider providing voter registration information and voting guides for first year students during their initial registration or orientation.  Facilitating student voting can be done as easily as including the current registration and voting guidelines in your Student Handbook.  

We also suggest that you consider reaching out to local and state election officials to help students with registration and residency requirements.  Local election officials can not only provide you with the necessary materials and resources, but may be able to come to the campus to talk directly with your students about these important issues.  Further, you may wish to look at ways to turn your campus into a voter registration site and polling place.  Long lines have plagued polling locations for years.  By working with your local and state election officials you may be able to decrease the amount of time required to cast a ballot, increase participation, and increase confidence in the voting process.

Educating students and easing voter registration and voting will provide the basis for students to not only participate in the federal electoral process while in college, but also increase the likelihood of civic engagement for the rest of their lives.  Our goal of more voter participation and making sure that every person who wants to vote gets to vote starts with you.