Reflecting on voting struggles: Students share their personal experiences

I Voted

Americans aged 18 to 30 were more excited about voting this November than they had been in decades, according to a Washington Post article published on Oct. 5. However, this article also pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic created numerous challenges for college students who wished to vote, such as schools sending students home who were planning to vote on or near campus and cancelling fall breaks so students who were planning to vote in-person in October could no longer do so. In addition, the article said that submitting mail-in ballots “can be uniquely challenging for college students—some of whom have never used the Postal Service or had to buy stamps.”

In a recent poll of 175 students conducted on the Accent’s Instagram account, 23% said that their voting experience was difficult or more complicated than they had expected. 

Junior business major Benjamin Olivier, who is registered to vote in Cumberland County, Tennessee, had been planning to vote in-person before being quarantined. Olivier started his quarantine in the dorm on Oct. 29 and would not be released until after polls were closed, so he was unable to vote. Olivier said his inability to vote this year made him wish he had planned better. However, the situation was not stressful for him.

Junior English major Ciarah Clark also struggled to vote in Tennessee but not because she was quarantined. Clark input her information on Tennessee’s online voter registration website last November and then again in February, July and August of this year. After every attempt, the information she provided did not appear on the website, so she emailed in August explaining her complications. She never received a reply. In September, she was finally able to successfully register by mail. And, though she was still anxious that her information would not show up correctly in Tennessee’s system, she was able to vote without any further complications.

Senior broadcast journalism major Gianni Arroyo’s mail-in ballot was lost for about three to four weeks. Arroyo said her family requested their mail-in ballots during the summer, and the ballots were delivered to their home in Florida around the end of September. Arroyo could not go home, partly because Southern had eliminated fall break, so she asked her parents to mail the ballot to her. Her dad mailed it in the first week of October, and Arroyo expected it to arrive a few days later. But for three to four weeks, her ballot was nowhere to be seen. She knew it was lost because she had already received other packages her parents had mailed two weeks after her dad mailed her ballot.

“The fact that I potentially almost didn’t vote was causing a lot of stress for me,” Arroyo said. “I was already having guilt for not voting, and it wasn’t my fault.”

Arroyo’s ballot showed up back at her parents’ home in Florida two days before election day with a “return to sender” sticker on top. With the combined assistance of the polling office in her county and her parents, Arroyo was able to fax her signature to the office and complete her ballot. Her dad dropped it off at an official ballot drop site on Nov. 3 on his way to work.

Sophomore mass communication and fine art major Zoe Kanas was unable to apply for her absentee ballot from South Carolina. A few days before the absentee voter registration ended, Kanas attempted to apply, but she was unable to print and mail her application in time. Although she attempted to call her county’s office twice, no one picked up the phone. When Kanas went home to visit her family, she saw that the line for in-person absentee applications was so long that it would have taken her more than nine hours to apply. Because of this, Kanas chose not to vote.

“I was only there for the weekend and was focused on spending time with my family,” Kanas said. “I also planned on voting for Biden, but South Carolina is very heavily Republican. I know it’s such a common phrase to say, ‘My vote won’t even count!’ In this case, though, I knew it wouldn’t. My county stayed red this election and has stayed red in previous ones.”

Like Arroyo and Kanas, sophomore nursing major Lexi Gillard struggled with receiving her ballot. Gillard, who is also registered to vote in South Carolina, requested her absentee ballot on Sept. 30, and she received an email on Monday, Oct. 5, from her county’s polling office saying it had arrived. Every day of that week, she checked Thatcher Hall’s front desk to see if they had it. Finally, Gillard went to the nearest post office and discovered she had accidentally put down Talge Hall’s mailing address instead of Thatcher’s. When she checked for her ballot at Talge, she was told that any girls’ mail received there was immediately sent to Thatcher. She checked again at Thatcher and then at Thatcher South. No one could find her ballot.

 Gillard said she had made this mistake before, but it had never taken a package so long to get to her. On Oct. 31, a dean found her ballot in Thatcher South. As soon as the post office opened on Monday, Nov. 2, Gillard expedited her ballot, and it was received on Nov. 3 at 3 p.m., four hours before the polls closed. Since she had requested another absentee ballot from her county, she had to void and send back her second ballot when it arrived on Nov. 2 at 5 p.m.

Gillard says she is thankful the deans were able to help her find her ballot, but says she was frustrated that the confusion almost cost her the chance to vote.

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