New obstacle for college voters

Chelsea Pennington, News Editor

A secret society extending its influence to local elections sounds like the plot of a movie, but it is happening at the University of Alabama, and has led to a court decision that will affect all college students in the state.
The Machine is a long-established secret society of 28 fraternities and sororities at the University of Alabama that holds sway over events, and in August it spread its influence to the local school board election. Cason Kirby was elected to the board, but his opponent, Kelly Horwitz, filed a lawsuit claiming that a majority of his supporters were illegal: they were college students whose permanent place of residence was not actually in the district.

College students have always had obstacles when it comes time to vote.

“Both a lack of knowledge about when they have to register, and some college students don’t even know that they have to request an absentee ballot,” Marissa Grayson, Samford assistant professor of political science, said.

On Sept. 30, the Alabama Supreme Court made a decision in the Horwitz v. Kirby case: students may not vote in a local election if it is not their permanent place of residence or intended place of residence after graduation.

While the case has brought the topic to light, Grayson noted it did not establish any new ruling, as there are already cases where the “intent” obligation was made clear.

“You have to demonstrate that at least your intent is that it’s where you’ll establish residency after college permanently … It’s not enough to just register to vote in just this precinct unless you can show an effort to make this your home,” she said.

Although the ruling reaffirms previous cases, it still comes across as an obstacle on an already hard road for college students trying to vote.

According to the Campus Vote Project, young voters made up only 19 percent of the electorate in the 2008 election. This year, young adults ages 18-29 will comprise nearly a quarter of the voting age population, but face an inability to register where they live.

This is where absentee voting can fill the gap.

“One thing that’s really important as a college student and citizen of the United States is voting,” junior music major Juliette Stanley said. “A lot of the time, I noticed as a college student when I left home I wasn’t able to participate in an election since I left home, and that’s a problem.”

Stanley, who is serving as the SGA vice president for development, said she wants to use her position to empower students to vote.

“Everyone knows about absentee voting, but the process can seem a little daunting, and it’s unknown,” Stanley said.

On Tuesday, SGA partnered with Samford’s College Republicans, Samford Democrats and Young Americans for Liberty to host an Absentee Ballot Request Day. Stanley, who looked to other campuses to find models of similar events, led the project.

She emphasized the importance of college students voting despite being away from home and having to overcome barriers.

“Although we have the power, we don’t have the tools to use the power. My goal is to give us the tools, at least on Samford’s campus,” Stanley said.

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