National Voter Registration Day encourages student voter participation


Photo courtesy of National Voter Registration Day

National Voter Registration day is celebrated on the fourth Tuesday of September each year.

Marshall University celebrated National Voter Registration Day by organizing an event in Drinko Library, inviting those who are eligible to vote to have their voice heard in the political process.

“As a public University, we feel that it’s part of our duty to make sure that our students are participating in the university’s mission of developing a just community,” Sarah Mollette, outreach librarian at Drinko Library, said. “There are so many things that affect college students that are determined by legislation. Whether that is student loans, the overall cost of higher education, as well as things like censorship. Those things directly affect our students on this campus.”

National Voter Registration Day, first recognized as a national holiday in 2012, seeks to create broad awareness of voter registration opportunities that could reach the tens of thousands of voters who may not register otherwise, according to their website.

In 2018, the national holiday resulted in 800,000 citizens registering to vote in the midterm elections, according to statistics provided by the organization.

Within a couple hours, the event on Marshall’s campus was able to interact with a total of 70 students, answering questions they had on the topic of voting.

“We knew we needed to get involved in informing people about this issue because that is what libraries do, we provide information, and then people can decide what to do with it,” Mollette said. “One of the great things about this organization is that they understand that it is very easy to say, ‘my vote doesn’t count’, but especially in local politics that is not true, every vote counts, and at the higher level the same is true.”

Only 56% of the U.S. voting-age population casted their ballots in the 2016 presidential election, a slight increase from 2012, but still lower than the turnout for the 2008 election, according to the Pew Research Center.

Cameron Donohue, first year political science and mathematis major, said that he believes knowledge about voting is the biggest factor contributing to America’s low voter turnout.

“I think it really comes down to the educational system and how we teach the subject of voting. For the longest time, the electoral college didn’t make sense to me, but now that I understand the process, I’m now more inclined to participate,” Donohue said. “I think a lot of the problem is just knowing how to go about voting, knowing where your polling location is, or even learning how to register, which makes something like this event really important.”

Donohue also said that the atmosphere on a college campus can help push students to become more involved in voting.

“Once you get to a college environment, you have a lot of people thinking about the future, and the current social climate,” Donohue said. “So, you get a lot of new ideas. I don’t know if they necessarily act upon those ideas, but I know there are a lot of people with very strong opinions on campus.”

With growing concern surrounding the issue of voter turnout, many states across the country have begun implementing automatic voter registration, including West Virginia.

In 2016, lawmakers passed House Bill 4013 to enact automatic voter registration across the state, which would automatically register the individual to vote when they receive their driver’s license, unless they opt out of the option.

The process had been stalled by legislative bills passed in the years following 2016, with the most recent decision, Senate Bill 491, setting a new deadline for the Department of Motor Vehicles to implement automatic voter registration by July 1, 2021.

However, in June of 2019, the Senate passed legislation giving the Secretary of State’s office the authority to spend $1.5 million for technological improvements (with funding coming from business and licensing fees generated by the Secretary of State’s Office), in order to make automatic voter registration a reality for the state in the future.

Blake Newhouse can be contacted at [email protected]