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Some Harvard Students Encounter Challenges in Voting Absentee

By Jacqueline S. Chea

State-specific voting procedures, missing ballots, and voter identification policies are plaguing some undergraduates hoping to vote absentee in the Nov. 6 midterm elections.

Of approximately 100 undergraduates interviewed by The Crimson, about 10 students said they faced hurdles when attempting to vote absentee.

The United States' election system "presents a lot of challenges because every single state does voting differently,” said Theodore “Teddy” N. Landis ’20, co-founder of the Harvard Votes Challenge, a campus initiative to maximize student turnout at the polls.

“So in a place like Harvard, where it’s extraordinarily diverse and students come from all over the country, students have to grapple with the fact that every single student may have a different procedure,” Landis said.

Cory A. Ransom ’19 said she encountered additional paperwork when trying to cast a ballot in her hometown district in New Jersey. Ransom attributed her frustration to a recently passed voting measure, which requires that voters who received mail-in ballots in the 2016 election continue to receive them at the same location unless they opt out.

Ransom said her local officials directed her to a form she had already completed.

“It was super frustrating and extra taxing,” she said.

Other students struggled to even receive their ballots at their College addresses. Sarah N. King ’21 said her ballot was sent to her home in Florida instead of Cambridge. King said that while her local election commissioner reassured her that the ballot was sent to both her Florida and College addresses, she has yet to find a ballot in her Harvard mailbox.

Madison L. Fabber ’22, who is from Tennessee, encountered administrative obstacles after trying to request her ballot online this fall.

Fabber said she was told by her local county election commission that, in lieu of registering to vote in person, she could have the Cambridge Election Commission fax her driver’s license to them to verify her identity. She made this request at the Cambridge Election Commission and encountered confused employees.

“They were like, ‘We’ve never had to do this before,’” Fabber said. “You have to jump through hoops because it seemed like they really didn’t want you to vote absentee. I don’t know. It just seems kind of like voter disenfranchisement. Like a wild goose chase.”

Maya L. Grimes ’19, said she thought Georgia’s requirement for “adequate postage” on mail-in ballots was unclear.

“The postage requirements are pretty ambiguous,” Grimes said.

Harvard has witnessed several efforts in recent years to help students facing such problems procure student absentee ballots. In 2016, the Registrar’s Office and Institute of Politics partnered with TurboVote, a program designed to streamline the voter registration process. The Harvard Votes Challenge began this fall.

Landis urged students struggling to procure absentee ballots to contact their election office.

“Most students, once they've [voted] once, they usually recognize that this [voting] isn't so bad, and they're able to do it the next time,” he said.

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PoliticsFeatured Articles2018 Election