Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
A democracy without voters is like a chicken without feathers: cold, halfway dead and outright scary.
Growing up, I couldn’t wait to participate in my first election. I would eagerly follow my parents into the voting booths and watch them cast their ballots for politicians I knew nothing about. Now, despite being older, away from home and knowing the politicians who are running for office, voting still seems like some faraway concept I can’t participate in.
With the upcoming midterm election this month, the University of Maryland and many other institutions have embraced the calls to increase voter turnout, the effects of which have already increased turnout among young people in 2020. However, despite this university’s online advocacy for students to get out and vote, there must be more proactive efforts toward making voting accessible for students.
The College Park City Council and voting advocacy groups need to implement effective methods for students to participate in voting, such as accessible drop-off ballot boxes on the campus and popup voter education booths around the community.
As a young adult, the November election will be my first time voting. In preparation for Election Day, I decided to request a mail-in ballot because I am registered to vote in my home county and cannot make it home to vote in person.
However, while researching the mail-in ballot process, I came across a dilemma. This university has no drop-off boxes on the campus. There is only one drop-off ballot box in College Park — at the College Park Community Center — about a 20-minute walk from Stamp Student Union.
Mail-in ballots are essential for all college students, in and out of state alike. Without needing the hassle of returning home to cast their ballots at their designated polling station, students can request mail-in ballots to be sent to their current residence and then simply send their completed ballot to be counted.
While students could drop their ballots off in a blue United States Postal Service box, there is no guarantee there will be no future efforts to undermine postal services during election periods. By blocking USPS funding, former President Donald Trump attempted to make it harder for election officials to process the ballot results by mail. Official ballot drop-off boxes provide more security and instill more confidence that our ballots will be safely collected, delivered and counted.
Students should be confident in the belief that their ballot will make it into safe hands, which is particularly needed during this time of election mistrust.
A solution to make mail-in ballots more accessible for students would be for the city to equip polling places around College Park and on the campus with these ballot drop-off boxes. The city should advocate and lobby to combine polling stations with drop-off boxes. Moreover, with the city in control and watching over community and college ballots, there is a higher level of responsibility and accountability by our local government to provide fair election results.
Ritchie Coliseum is a polling location for the upcoming election, yet it does not have any drop-off boxes for mail-in ballots. Equipping polling stations with drop-off boxes in and around election time can reduce the time taken for students and community members to find drop-off stations.
College Park could play a more proactive role in educating students on their civic duties through more focused campaigns and voter education booths on and around the campus. By engaging the student body and the community, the city could increase voter turnout and ensure less election misinformation from influencing new voters.
This university’s Special Collections and University Archives created an exhibit titled “Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America” which provides an informative and interactive history of voting in the U.S.
I visited the exhibit myself, and I feel as though more students could benefit from this experience. It teaches the importance of each and every vote and how hard people in the U.S. fought for their rights. In a time where we question the effectiveness of our individual ballot, this exhibit reinforces the importance of voting.
Student groups such as MaryPIRG and other civic-minded organizations on the campus can benefit from the information and resources the library exhibit provides. Moreover, the city could, in collaboration with the university library, develop a similar exhibit in community centers to educate community members on voter education.
College Park has a responsibility to both the students and year-round residents who live here. Therefore, College Park needs to help make voting more accessible for its students through the advocacy of mail-in box expansion as well as informative tabling.
Turning 18 years old represents my ability to think for myself, participate in the government and be represented in my government. Thus, for voters like myself and all others like me, the city must do more to promote student voting.
Dalia Mustafa is a sophomore economics and government and politics major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.