Difficulties arise with student absentee ballots in midterm elections

By Anna Mann
Executive Editor

During the most recent midterm elections, many Sewanee students faced difficulty with their absentee ballots, experiencing a high number of refusals and returns. The nation’s record-breaking turnout of early voters concerned state and national elections alike. Despite the free stamps and advice provided by the new Sewanee Democratic engagement initiative Yea Sewanee Votes, several Sewanee students were unable to send in their ballots for the November 6 elections.

Sharron Bockman (C’18), postbaccalaureate fellow for student programming and the initiator of Yea Sewanee Votes, spoke with The Purple about the difficulty of requesting absentee ballots in the first place. Bockman received complaints that students waited weeks after requesting their ballot, while some never received them.

Bockman went on to explain that the complications arose in multiple states, but students from Texas had a notoriously difficult time acquiring their ballots. She stressed that since every state has different rules, students must know to call if their absentee ballot doesn’t arrive within a week. Once students called their election commissions, many obtained their packet in the next few days.

When asked how to avoid the issue in the future, Bockman explained that “part of it is what students will do differently and part of it is what I hope Yea Sewanee Votes will do differently. I started in June, so ideally we would have been working on this more last semester. Now we know that students should request their absentee ballot as soon as possible…so if there’s an issue, there’s still time.”

The Campus Election Engagement Project (CEEP) fellows, Ali Chastenet (C’19) and Emily Badgett (C’20), helped Bockman spearhead the Yea Sewanee Votes initiative. Chastenet underscored the importance of researching rules and deadlines for the state in which a student will vote.

“Many times students weren’t aware of either the exact laws or smaller things, such as needing two or three stamps when sending in their ballot. Our response was to attempt to learn as many voting laws as possible as well as educate students on their rights,” Chastenet said.

Bockman also spoke to the difficulty of sending in ballots when she explained that stamps pose one of the biggest barriers to college students voting. Although most students know to go to the Student Post Office (SPO) for stamps, the SPO only takes cash, which may present an issue for some. Though Yea Sewanee Votes didn’t budget for stamps beforehand, Bockman assures students that they will have more stamps available in the future.

Liam Morehead (C’22) was one of the Texans who failed to receive his ballot despite sending his request form in September, much sooner than 11 days before the election day as the deadline requires. As a volunteer in Texas’s voter drive and a politics devotee, Morehead had researched the rules beforehand to ensure he could participate in the election.

However, the week before election day came and his ballot hadn’t yet appeared in his SPO box. Morehead called his county election office to inquire and was told his request hadn’t been received and the deadline had already passed.

Though frustrated, Morehead said, “I take solace in the fact that I volunteered and contributed to the most energized election cycle in my lifetime and saw a Democrat seriously challenge a Republican in deep red (now purple) Texas. The turnout among young adults increased by 500 percent since 2014, and regardless of any election results, this is cause for celebration.”

As to staying encouraged despite the difficulties, Chastenet described her passion for student participation in elections, saying, “It is important for students to take part in elections, as we are the future and the first step towards building a more civically engaged America.”

Morehead also expressed the importance of student voter turnout.“Young Americans are the people who will have to live with the decisions our leaders make. That is why it is crucial that they vote,” he said. “No one group or age should have a disproportionate say on our government, and when young people vote, we get just a little bit closer to a more perfect union.”