Students Face Barriers to Voting, but Colleges Can Help

Colleges will play a key role in educating students about how to vote, according to the American Council on Education.

Published September 21, 2022

Edited by Raneem Taleb-Agha
Students Face Barriers to Voting, but Colleges Can Help
Higher Ed Policy Student Voting
Photo by Paul Bersebach / Digital First Media / Orange County / MediaNews Group / Getty Images

  • Student voting has increased in recent years.
  • Students face barriers and a patchwork of rules and regulations based on where they go to college.
  • Colleges are set to play a key role in ensuring students practice their constitutional right to vote.

With the 2022 midterms less than two months away, students are set to have significant sway over local, state and federal elections.

Millennials and Gen Z made up the largest share of eligible voters in 2020, according to the Campus Vote Project, but millennials and Gen Z haven’t made up the largest share of votes in previous elections because of low participation — though participation has increased in recent years.

Students have a constitutional right to vote where they live to attend college, according to a recent brief from the American Council on Education (ACE). The brief noted the massive student bodies at some campuses across the United States: Arizona State University, for instance, has nearly 78,000 campus-based students, with more than 54,000 students at its Tempe campus alone.

Although student voting has been up in recent years, the ACE report notes that many students still face barriers to casting their ballot — and outlines ways colleges can help students practice their constitutional right to vote.

Barriers to Student Voting Persist

Students face a patchwork of deadlines and voter registration requirements based on where they go to school, according to the brief. Some states have voter registration deadlines 15 days before Election Day, while others have deadlines up to 30 days before the election.

Some state laws also disrupt the student vote, BestColleges previously reported, such as when the criteria for acceptable student IDs for voting in Wisconsin was changed to cards with signatures and two-year expiration dates. Only a small percentage of colleges’ ID cards met those new requirements.

Thirty-five states currently have a voter ID law in place, according to the Campus Vote Project, but acceptable IDs vary widely. Eighteen of those states allow voters without an ID to sign a personal identification affidavit and cast a provisional ballot. Of the 17 remaining voter ID states, seven do not accept student ID cards: Arizona, Iowa, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

A recently enacted Florida law requiring enough non-permitted parking to handle a voting site's anticipated number of voters at early voting locations hampered several on-campus voting site plans that didn’t typically offer extensive parking, BestColleges reported.

Check out BestColleges’ Student Voting Guide to learn how to register to vote in your state.

The ACE brief also identifies “residency” as a phrase that could confuse students about voter eligibility. About half of states have residency requirements of 30 days or less in order to vote in an election, according to the brief.

According to the ACE brief, colleges and universities “ought to be attentive to

practical constraints and potential confusion about terminology” when it comes to educating students about voting.

Higher Ed’s Role in Boosting Student Voting

Since 1998, colleges have been required to make “good faith efforts in connection with federal and gubernatorial election cycles to help students register to vote” if they want to participate in programs under the Higher Education Act, according to the ACE report.

An easy way to meet that requirement is distributing the National Mail Voter Registration Form to students, according to the brief, although colleges can also take further steps and connect students with nonpartisan voter groups like ALL IN to Vote, US Vote, Democracy Works, and other organizations that engage with student voters.

“Colleges and universities should take care to ensure that voting encouragement and resources offered to their students are nonpartisan and that their communications with students are likely to be received that way,” the ACE brief reads.

Many colleges have ramped up voter engagement efforts in recent months. At the University of Cincinnati, school officials and students held a voter registration drive on campus this month, according to The News Record.