Voter Registration Falls Through For Some Students

On election day some students traveled across Cambridge—to the Friends Center on Brattle Street, Gund Hall on Broadway, Graham and Parks School, or Quincy House—only to find that they were not registered to vote.

“It was an unusually high number of people this year,” said Winnie Williams, the warden at the Gund Hall precinct.

Williams noted that many of those who arrived at the polls only to be disappointed had registered to vote in one of three ways: by filling out a form on freshmen study card day, by registering with campaign promoters for Elizabeth Warren, and by using TurboVote—a company that provides online voter registration forms.

At around 2 p.m. at the polling station inside Quincy House, official poll observer Susan Roosevelt estimated that seven prospective voters, all of whom said they had used TurboVote, were not registered.

Officials at the Cambridge Election Commission said they were too busy to comment during Election Day. Brian McNiff, the spokesman for the Massachusetts Secretary of State, said he was not aware of the issue.

“[Cambridge] obviously should pursue and have the city election commission look into it,” McNiff said.

TurboVote—a company started by Harvard Kennedy School students—offers students online voter registration forms, which can then be printed out or requested to be mailed to them.

The Institute of Politics covered the postage for all Harvard students who registered through TurboVote, according to Esten Perez, communications director at the IOP.

The registrants must then sign the form and mail it to their Election Commission, a second step that Williams said she heard many students had failed to complete.

“They think everything is done, but it isn’t. Nothing is valid until they sign something,” Williams said.

In other cases, students’ forms may have been lost in the mail or were not processed by the Cambridge Election Commission in time.

While Bostonians are able to check the status of their voter registration online, Cantabrigians must call the Cambridge Election Commission or view a list in the Cambridge Town Hall 20 days prior to the election.

One of the goals of TurboVote is to better track voter registration forms to try to analyze why the forms are not processed.

In the next year, TurboVote is partnering with 10 local election boards to improve their online registration, said Seth E. Flaxman, executive director and co-founder of TurboVote.

“They don’t have the resources themselves. We’re there to provide the technology,” Flaxman said.

—Staff writer Kerry M. Flynn can be reached at kflynn@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Maya S. Jonas-Silver can be reached at mayajonas-silver@college.harvard.edu.

Tags