Voting Rights Watch: Students still face many hurdles in voting in this year's election

Time reports that college students are facing numerous stumbling blocks in voting in this year's election, explaining that:

Ever presidential election finds college students wading through a swamp of murky laws and logistical hurdles to get into the polling booths. But this year, amid record interest - and primary turnout - among college students, experts say many campus precincts are sorely unprepared to meet student demand. And laws passed after the 2004 election, ostensibly to clamp down on voter fraud, could cause a slew of new problems that disproportionately hit student voters. Which means the question in 2008 isn't will the young voters deliver. "It's can the young voters deliver?," says Matthew Segal, executive director of the Student Association for Voter Empowerment.

Time reports that the biggest problems will come from lack of preparation. Despite surges in registration, many campuses and precincts have not been allocated additional voting machines. Facing South reported on a similar issue impacting many minority communities where polling precincts remain unprepared for the large expected turnouts.

Another major issue is with the interpretation of laws. Some voting advocates argue that students across the country are already being bombarded with misinformation on key voting issues. "In some states where margins will be razor thin and the race could swing on a single college campus, students are being deliberately misinformed about their rights," Jonah Goldman, director of the National Campaign for Fair Elections at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a press release. "With young people so energized this election year, this is completely unacceptable. Lawmakers and election officials should honor this new generation of civic participation by ensuring that all Americans have equal access to the polls."

According to Time:

Because local officials have wide latitude in interpreting election laws that vary from state to state, misunderstandings - or misinformation - could have a greater impact this year, given the anticipated bulge in student turnout. Most of the trouble comes from nailing down where college students should be counted as residents if they go to school in one state but go home to another on holidays. The Supreme Court's position is clear: a 1979 ruling found that all students have the right to vote where they attend college.

But local officials often make students travel a rocky road. In recent months, registrars in counties including Montgomery, Va. (home to Virginia Tech), Greenville, S.C. (Furman University) and most recently El Paso, Colo. (Colorado College), issued warnings that were off-putting if not outright alarming: students who register in their college town could be ineligible to be claimed as dependents on their parents' tax returns and might be in danger of losing tuition scholarships. The problem, according to youth voter advocates and the IRS, is that these dire warnings are incorrect.

Earlier this month Facing South reported on possible student disenfranchisement in Virginia, in which the rights of college students to vote in Virginia are still being challenged by election officials using an exceedingly narrow interpretation of state residency laws, potentially disenfranchising tens of thousands of young voters. Time reports that:

In Virginia, for example, where the law stipulates that voters must establish "domicile" in their precincts to register but never defines that term, youth voter advocates say it's no accident that registrars' rulings are often strictest in small towns where students could potentially swing a local election.

In a year in which historic youth voter turnout is anticipated, and the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has been propelled by college students' support, this case in the battleground state of Virginia is "not an isolated incident," Sujatha Jahagirdar, program director for the Student Public Interest Research Group's nonpartisan New Voters Project, told Inside Higher Ed.

Finally, many first-time student voters may be excluded due to the stricter ID laws passed since 2004. Facing South has reported on the problems represented by stricter voter ID laws and how they could potentially disenfranchise thousands of voters, particularly poor immigrant and minority voters.

Time reports that ID statutes such as the ones in Georgia, Arizona and Florida, will also fall harder on students than on most voters because so many study out of state. Time reports that a Rock the Vote poll in February found that 19% of people aged 18-30 don't have a government ID that reflects their current address.