It took Matthew P. Downer ’07 four e-mails and a phone call to find out that he won’t be allowed to cast his vote for George Bush next Tuesday because first-time voters in his state must register to vote in person.
He didn’t, and now he faces a difficult choice.
“I can either fly back to Hamilton County, Tenn., or I can’t vote,” said a downcast Downer. “People wonder why young people don’t vote. Maybe they just can’t figure out the system or are dissuaded by the complications of the registration system.”
Diana C. Rosenthal ’05 got her Florida absentee ballot the other day, but only after 10 frustrating calls to the elections commission. “I either received busy signals, prerecorded messages giving me the office hours—even though it was in fact between 9 and 5 on a workday when I called—or was left with an incompetent person on the other end of the line who seemed not to understand my questions,” she said.
Rosenthal channeled her frustration into a facebook.com group, Florida Students with Problems Voting Absentee. The group, which now boasts more than 70 members, was created at the request of a Miami lawyer who plans litigation if Florida voters are disenfranchised.
These two would-be voters are not alone. In a state so clearly locked up in the Kerry column, Harvard and nearby universities provide a small pocket of students whose votes matter critically. This year, Harvard students from red, blue and especially swing states are taking extra precautions to make their votes count.
Rebecca L. Zeidel ’06 was so concerned with her ballot’s prompt arrival that she tracked it all the way from Cambridge to Pittsburgh. It arrived Wednesday, Oct. 20, at 11:16 a.m.
Carrie E. Andersen ’08 lavishly stuck five 37-cent stamps on her ballot to Illinois. Allison K. Rone ’06 had her ballot Fed-exed to her from Washington state to make sure she filled it out in time.
Sara F. Eckhouse ’06 sent her ballot back to Iowa at the beginning of October.
While any eligible student can choose to vote in Massachusettes, students from battleground states are, predictably, voting absentee. And campus political groups have tailored their efforts accordingly.
Harvard Students for Kerry sifted through enrollment rosters to identify college students from battlegrounds, said Hayley Tozeski, director of youth outreach for the Kerry campaign.
Massachusetts Students for Bush also placed an emphasis on voters in showdown states, said Stephanie N. Kendall ’05, the group’s spokeswoman.
“We are encouraging students to register and vote absentee in their home states where their vote might make a critical difference in a swing state,” Kendall said. Two weeks ago, sophomores Rebecca C. Chase and Sasha Harris-Lovett put the party back in politics with a swing state bash. They advertised the fete with slogans like “party your way to the polls.” With a U.S. map hanging on the wall, the party favored its guests with free stamps for their absentee ballots and computer access to a voter information website.
“It basically was a party to give people from swing states a lot of love,” said
Chase, who got the idea after working with the League of Pissed Off Voters last summer.