In the election of 1864, the nation was caught between the conflict of the Union and Confederacy on the American Civil War. This presented an issue for the candidates of that particular election cycle as many soldiers and military personnel would be unable to cast votes as they were engaged in the conflict. Thus absentee balloting came to fruition.
Moving forward to the present, absentee voting has become a tool for soldiers, citizens abroad and—as it seems most of all—college students.
A vast majority of out-of-state students (67 percent), register in their hometowns. Absentee ballots are typically mailed back to a student’s home state and are notorious for being complicated and prone to error, a factor that seems to greatly discourage many.
According to a study by the University of Rochester, in the 2008 election cycle 85 percent of students that lived within 30 minutes of their registered city or town voted, as opposed to only 75 percent of students who live more than two hours away from their registered voting place, while only 12 percent of displaced students registered in their schools state.
Boise State boasts an eight percent out-of-state enrollment rate, deeming it one of the most popular transfer locations in the west, yet it seems the general attitude on campus is that absentee voting is complex and many choose to abstain from local politics.
It can be said attending university away from home should not cause an individual to disengage from the governing of their hometown or state but if one spends three-quarters of the year located away from home, are they in the best position to cast their marks on the ballot?
Learning about politics and the political process can, and should be a vital part of an individuals’ university education. But absentee balloting creates a disconnect between students and their local politics that hinders their ability to learn about politics, and minimizes the meaning of their votes.
This is hardly the fault of the students. In general, the United States political cycle can be grossly intimidating and complicated for students who are new to voting.
While absentee voting is an unfavorable system for college students, many local politicians do little to attempt to accommodate students.
“I don’t really know Idaho politics very well. I couldn’t tell you who the governor of Idaho is right now,” said Rachel Jones, a first year graduate student from Bainbridge Island, Wash. When asked whether or not local politicians did enough to educate Boise State students, her answer was clear.“During high school, I took classes at a community college, and there were people everywhere telling you about local politics,” she said.
Much could be done by local politicians to increase student awareness and engagement. And since they are trying to get votes, they have nothing to lose by reaching out to students more.
Out-of-state students should be encouraged to participate in local politics. This will better their political education while in school as well as benefit their campus and local environment through their political participation.