Absentee voting offers alternative method for college students

IAN LACK Reporter

Election officials hope absentee voting is the answer to South Dakota’s small Millennial voter turnout.

According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, more than half of all voting American citizens still cast their vote in-person for every presidential election. But absentee voting is providing many voters, especially college students, with a way to ensure their vote is cast in November.

Samantha Parisien, junior agricultural communications major, used absentee voting in the 2014 general election. She plans to vote this way again but doesn’t think many college students are aware of this voting ability.

“Most of us have just turned 18 and are only thinking about voting at a booth,” Parisien said. “I’d say a lot of us still need to be told that you can vote even when you’re away from home.”

Absentee voting allows citizens to fill out a printed ballot and mail their choice of candidate to their county’s auditor office. Voters are also able to fill out their absentee ballot in the office. The absentee ballot is then counted as if the voter had cast the ballot in-person on Election Day.

Absentee ballots in South Dakota began being accepted Friday, Sept. 23. These ballots will continue to be accepted until 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 8.

Absentee voting was not always designed for average voters, said Lisa Hager, political science assistant professor.

“Initially, absentee voting was something for people who served in the military or lived overseas,” Hager said. “Now it’s also being used by the elderly who can’t get out to vote, people who live away from home, like college students, and people who are going to be too busy on Election Day.”

It is expected that almost 30 percent of all votes cast this election will use the absentee process, according to the United States Census Bureau.

South Dakota allows no-excuse absentee voting so voters do not have to provide an approved excuse for why they are choosing to absentee vote. Voters must provide an approved voter ID with a photo or provide a signed affidavit confirming their identity in order to register to vote and then absentee vote.

Voting laws and regulations for this type of voting vary by state. For 13 states, there is no early voting, and an excuse is required to absentee vote. For three states, all voting is done by mail.

But even with this type of voting available, South Dakota Secretary of State Shantel Krebs said the state is not seeing enough voter turnout from Millennials.

In the 2012 presidential election, South Dakota ranked 45th in the country for 18 to 29-year-old voter turnout. The United States Census Bureau reported 36.4 percent of this demographic voted in comparison to the national 45-percent average.

“Absentee voting is something that’s really integral to the voting process in our country and is something that can really be utilized by college students, especially those at this university,” Krebs said. “For students who attend college away from home, this is the perfect way to stay involved if you registered out-of-state or in a different county.” 

On Tuesday, Sep. 27, Krebs met with students on campus to gather absentee ballots and promote a new app, “Vote 605,” that allows voters to find polling places and auditors’ offices and gather absentee ballot information.

Krebs hopes this app will help inform young college students about how easy it is to become involved in the election.