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Voting on college campuses is made easier

This November, New York voters will cast ballots for Governor, Attorney General, Comptroller, one U.S. Senate seat (senior senator, currently Schumer) and for Congressional Representatives in Washington, as well as lawmakers in the New York State Assembly and Senate. New Yorkers also will have the opportunity to vote on an Environmental Bond Act that is critical to the state’s ability to meet its climate goals set in law.

While New York is considered a “blue” state – meaning that Democrats far outnumber Republicans – few things are a certainty in politics. But with a 2-to-1 and growing enrollment advantage, Democrats have come to dominate New York State politics. A Republican hasn’t been elected to a statewide position in twenty years – George Pataki’s election to a third term as governor in 2002.

But due to redistricting, elections to Congress are much more competitive than had been expected. The new political district lines drawn by the courts for New York’s House of Representatives has resulted in what could be very competitive matches.

According to the Cook Political Report, New York State has more “toss up” House elections than any other state in the nation (four NY CDs: 3, 18, 19, and 22). Right now, Democrats hold a small majority in the 435 member House of Representatives, meaning that these “toss-up” races – both in New York and the rest of the nation – may determine who controls that Chamber.

Given the narrow Democratic majority and the number of “toss-up” seats in New York, turnout this November could well determine overall control of the House of Representatives and the direction of the country. No small matter.

Nationally, this is an important midterm election. Whichever party wins control of Congress will have a major impact on the direction of the country during the final two years of President Biden’s term in office – on issues such as climate change, infrastructure, health care, voting rights, civil liberties, and more. The actions of this Congress will likely also influence the 2024 Presidential election.

An important – and overlooked – change to New York elections may bring a large number of new and young voters to the polls. Buried in April’s state budget agreement was language that requires local elections officials to place a polling site on virtually all colleges with dormitories. The new law stated, “Whenever a contiguous property of a college or university contains three hundred or more registrants who are registered to vote at any address on such contiguous property, the polling place designated for such registrants shall be on such contiguous property or at a nearby location recommended by the college or university and agreed to by the board of elections.”

The deadline for those decisions was last week. As of August 1st, colleges with dorms housing at least 300 registrants must have a polling location. How well that process played out is still unclear, but most college students with dorms should expect to see a campus-based polling place.

As a result, college student voters have an opportunity to significantly impact the outcome of the 2022 General Election in New York. For the first time, all eligible students who live at a covered college campus will be able to vote at a poll site placed at (or near) their college campus. Students will not have to make travel arrangements to get to an off-campus location, or vote absentee. The result will be likely be a significant increase in college student voter turnout, giving students a greater voice and impact in the outcome of the 2022 Election.

The location of college campus poll sites matter. Despite the constitutional right-to-vote, students have far too often faced obstacles to voter registration and participation across the state. The unfortunate history of student voting has been one in which local elections officials too often seek to suppress participation. Some counties target students by further splitting campus populations into multiple election districts or removing campus poll sites and moving others conveniently located for students.

On-campus poll sites and early voting have demonstrated success in other states. For example, when Florida implemented early voting on some college campuses in 2018, they saw significantly higher rates of voter participation by young voters and Black and Hispanic voters.

Bringing poll sites to college campuses across New York is a significant victory for young voters and will have a measurable impact on college student voting. As the climate crisis and other pressing issues make clear, young voters have an enormous amount at stake in elections: their future depends on the decisions elected representatives make today. In New York for the first time, significant barriers to student voting should be removed so those voices can help shape their own future.

Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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