How Students Can Participate in the US Primaries: Absentee Ballots

Although the University of Rhode Island approved of cancelling classes for the 2020 general election in November, student voters find it challenging to vote during state primaries.

URI will give students a day off on Nov. 3, the date of the general election for president, multiple Senate seats and every seat in the House of Representatives. However, the primary elections, which determine the nominees for every major American political party, will not be off for students. Students will likely have to fill out absentee ballots to vote instead of getting to the polls.

Due to many states holding their primary or caucuses on different days, giving students days off to go home and vote in their states would result in a logistical nightmare for the University.

“Voter turnout at the general elections is comparatively low, so I feel like trying to get primary days off would be absolutely insane,” Kaylee Goyette, president of URI’s American Civil Liberties Union, said.

As it turns out, even scheduling in the date of the general elections is a challenge for the University. 

“There’s just no room for it in the academic calendar,” Christopher Bove, a student senator and secretary of the URI ACLU, said. “Even next academic year we’re not going to have Indigenous People’s Day off because in years where there’s an election, there’s no wiggle room whatsoever to schedule days off.”

The most reliable option for out-of-state students at URI to make their voices heard are by filling out absentee ballots. 

Absentee ballots are offered to voters who cannot make it to polls, so individuals who are residents of a different state can send in their votes for elected offices ahead of time.

 In order to receive an absentee ballot, students must contact their local state government and request an absentee ballot. This information is then verified and voting is confidential, according to Goyette. 

“It’s also different in every state,” Bove said. “For students out of state, the process varies a lot.”

According to Bove, 33 states allow citizens to fill out an absentee ballot without giving a reason. Citizens of the other 17 states, which include New Hampshire, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut, must provide reasoning for filling one out to the state government. All states allow mail absentee ballots, but only some allow an online application. 

While the process of requesting and filling out ballots may be intimidating to many, the ACLU will set up booths to help students request and fill out absentee ballots.

The ACLU is still developing days and times to hold absentee ballot help booths, although they are planning on holding it at some point next month, according to Bove. The members hope to help spread the word among students to apply for an absentee ballot and vote in the primary for their state. 

The New Hampshire primary occurred on Feb. 11. Local states such as Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont all have their primaries on “Super Tuesday,” which falls on March 3. Super Tuesday has the most number of states voting on the same day, totalling to 14. Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island all have their primaries on April 28. The only Northeastern state that has their primary day off is New Jersey, as their primaries will be held on June 2, after the end of the semester, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Currently, Bernie Sanders is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. However, candidates Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren are all within distance, and wins on Super Tuesday for any of them would change the game.

Multiple states, including Nevada, South Carolina, Virginia and Arizona, are not holding a Republican primary this year, according to the NCSL. The Republican parties in each of these states will instead automatically give all of their delegates to Donald Trump.

This piece was published in the Feb. 27 edition of the Good Five Cent Cigar.

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