Confusing Voter Registration Laws Could Affect Presidential Election

Register at parents' home? At school? Students get conflicting advice.


It's difficult to measure the impact these laws have on students because most voter data is broken down only by age group and not by who is and who isn't attending a university or college. Despite that, the Salisbury University study found a slight correlation between states that allow young people to choose where they vote and higher voter registration and turnout. "If we just had college student data, I would expect that the relationship would be stronger," explains Michael O'Loughlin, a professor at Salisbury who coauthored the study.

In recent years, several legal battles have highlighted the topic and have come down on the side of the students. At the same time, O'Loughlin says he has seen a national "drift" toward allowing students the option to vote at their campus addresses, though there are regions that resist the trend.

For voting groups like Rock the Vote and SAVE, the key is getting students the right information. SAVE has pushed for legislation, and a bill has been introduced in the House and Senate that would require federally funded colleges and universities to register student voters, similar to the way departments of motor vehicles across the country give citizens the option to register to vote while getting their driver's license.

Rock the Vote has recently introduced a "there's no place like home" campaign to spread the word to students that their campus is their home too. "I think that young people are savvy voters, and they will register and cast a ballot where they consider home and where they think it makes the most sense politically," says Heather Smith, executive director of Rock the Vote.

By Election Day, voting groups hope their messages will have cut through some of the misunderstandings. "You've seen the game 'Telephone'—if one person hears the right instructions, the message slowly slips as it is delivered from person to person," says Segal of SAVE. "It's very easy in such a large body of people to have confusion about the laws and procedures."

And in what could be a very close election, that confusion could cost one of the candidates.