At Radford, Town and Gown Work Together to Register Students


[Image courtesy of todayscampus]

Even as more and more states and localities rely upon online registration to grow and maintain their rolls, one Virginia university is using the personal touch to help students learn about and navigate the process. WDBJ-7 has more:

We’re about a month away from election day. A group in Radford is taking the confusion out of registering to vote for students by helping face-to-face instead of online.

Voting is the easy part, registering thousands of students each year to vote has always been a challenge for the City of Radford’s Voter Registrar, Tracy Howard.

“Very often a good bit of that information that gets back to us is incorrect so we have to deny that application, send a new application to them,” Howard said.

Students registered online, sometimes registering twice or illegally voting twice, and used confusing third party forms to sign up.

“When the third party groups go onto campus they’re register[ing] simply for the numbers, as many people as they can get registered as possible,” Howard said.

Radford set up the office because the campus itself isn’t large enough to support a full polling place like its much bigger neighbor in Blacksburg:

Virginia Tech ha[s] a voting location on campus. Howard says there simply isn’t enough money to open a new one and pay staff in Radford. The population isn’t very large either. So he created the Voting Action Office at Radford University to help.

The Radford University Student Government Association helped form the program, rolling it out just a week ago, and is using social media to spread the word about how to register.

“Actually having someone here to explain the whole process to them through to them, that’s a big, big deal and it goes a long way with our initiative,” said Colby Bender, the SGA president.

About 18 students working from the SGA office on campus are now trained as deputy registrars.

They register voters, collect absentee ballots, and are getting college credit for their service, Howard says.

“We’ve had students go around to residence halls, go around to student organization meetings, and we’ve had students come right here at this very desk and sit in the office and register students to vote,” Bender said.

Other universities are watching the program to see if it could be adapted to their communities as well:

Voter Registration Offices in Montgomery County [Tech], Harrisonburg [James Madison], and Williamsburg [William & Mary], … are watching the success of this program in Radford and are considering a similar office.

This concept is intriguing on a number of levels. First, obviously, it provides face-to-face assistance with the registration process, which can be difficult for college students who are first-time or inexperienced voters and for whom voting issues like domicile and mobility can be hard to understand – especially in Virginia where there  are statewide elections every year. Second, it provides an outlet to get younger people involved in the election process beyond focusing exclusively on politics. And finally, it’s an opportunity for the student body and the election office to move past the potential for “town/gown” friction and engage in activity that benefits them both.

I look forward to seeing and hearing more about the program going forward – and if and when I do I’ll share it here.

Stay tuned.

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