TurboVote makes voting more convenient for college students, encourages participation

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By Hannah Gill, Contributor

Voter registration for Nebraska for the Nov. 4 elections will end on Oct. 17. Midterm elections and youth voters are both challenged populations, but University of Nebraska at Omaha has made registration easier for students through the implementation of TurboVote.
According to professor Barbara Pickering, administrative fellow in the office of academic and student affairs, 256 voters have registered through TurboVote in 2014, 231 of them since Sept. 30.
“I see it as one of those things that is an ongoing project,” Pickering said. “I sympathize with some of the cynicism with politics. Nevertheless, the more creative ways we can engage students, the better.”
The TurboVote program is run by Democracy Works, a non-profit 501(c)(3) founded by Seth Flaxman, a former graduate student who missed several elections while away at school. His first project, TurboVote, was launched in September 2010 to make voting easier for students.
“Students want to be able to do voter registration when it fits their schedule and when it’s convenient,” Pickering said. “The more we can facilitate that, the better.”
Under the Higher Education Act of 1965, universities are required “to make a good faith effort” to distribute voter registration forms to their students. Pickering leads the campaign to reach students through flyers in residences halls and emails from faculty, student leaders and potentially, the university homepage.
“Part of the reason I thought this was worth taking on now was because it does prepare us for 2016,” Pickering said.
She hopes to use more of TurboVote’s provided resources, including template materials. Senior Jordan Koch, elementary education major and elected UNO student body president regent, was one of the students asked to email out about TurboVote. Part of the student government since her freshmen year, Koch understands the “importance of government bodies.”
“Students are voting for the future and the future is basically us,” Koch said.
Still, many students opt out of the process. Britny Doane, poetry and religious studies junior, is not registered and does not plan to vote.
“I stay out of that stuff, not interested,” Doane said.
Doane is not alone, with student voters considered a challenged population by national politics. To vote in Nebraska, a student must be 18 years old as of the first Tuesday of November, a citizen, live in the state, have no parole or probation within the last two years and not be found mentally incompetent.
In Nebraska, voter identification is only collected from people registering by mail in Nebraska for the first time. Acceptable identification includes valid photo ID, current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document. Voters can also purchase an optional Voter Certificate from the Douglas County Election Commission for $3.
The student should register at their permanent address, whether they choose their dorm, apartment or parent’s residence. Voters must register again when a change of name, address, or political party occurs.
Freshman Abigail Hamik registered at the Nebraska Official Department of Motor Vehicles on her 18th birthday, but is still deciding whether or not to vote.
“I want to vote, I just haven’t really looked into any of the candidates yet,” Hamik said.
In the last gubernatorial elections in 2010 only 40 percent of the 313,264 registered voters turned out. Eighty-seven percent of registered college student’s voted in the 2008 elections, according to Campus Vote Project, and in 2010, 85 percent of those students voted again.
Sophomore biology major Ellis Johnson has already voted in Iowa, for “the betterment of my country, to sum it up.”
“The people around me have set the example,” Johnson said.
Unfortunately, none of these students had heard of TurboVote, despite campus-wide and more individual emails. As a dry-run for 2016, the university plans to expand use of the service, which is free to all UNO students. More important than registering, however, is getting out the vote.
“No matter how busy you are, these decisions will have a personal impact,” Pickering said.

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