As Virginians prepare to vote in Tuesday's midterm elections, many out-of-state students have reported challenges with the often tedious registration process. With around 33 percent of the University population coming from states other than Virginia, these students face the choice of traveling home to vote, requesting an absentee ballot in their home state or switching their registration to Virginia —- along with uncertainties of registration confirmation.
Because of key races, including the battle between Republican nominee Bob Good and Democratic nominee Josh Throneburg for the fifth district Congressional seat, voting proves particularly significant in this midterm election. Many students said they hoped to communicate their stances on particular key issues, ranging from healthcare to abortion rights.
Second-year College student Aliza Diop is from San Francisco, Calif. and has friends at the University who come from states ranging from Alabama to Massachusetts. Diop organized with friends to switch their voter registrations to Virginia to avoid the difficulties of absentee voting for their home states — a process she said still proved frustrating.
Virginia requires voters who change their registration to submit physical forms to the Department of Elections. Diop gathered these forms and mailed them in September to the Virginia Department of Elections. Yet on the last day to register, Diop still had no update regarding her voter registration. She later called the department, who recommended that she gather the forms a second time and visit the Albemarle County registration office in person — a final step that led to her successful registration.
“It was just a stressful process that shouldn’t be stressful,” Diop said.
Hailing from Birmingham, Ala., second-year College student Emily Pitts also registered to vote with Diop. Pitts similarly worked to turn in her voter registration forms in person and said she felt frustrated by the long process.
“It was initially discouraging that we had to put in all of this effort to try to mobilize people to vote and nothing really came of it,” Pitts said.
Though Pitts ultimately received registration confirmation and voted, the absence of digital forms for out-of-state students left her concerned regarding overall voter turnout this election season.
“I can really see why people do not come out to vote more because this process is so tedious,” Pitts said, “Aliza and I were really pushing for this to happen and caring about it, but the average person probably doesn't put in the time or effort to go, print out a form and then mail it or go in person.”
Third-year College student Sophia Wilbourn shared a slightly different perspective as an out-of-state student who typically votes by mail in her home state of Mississippi.
“The actual process of voting as someone who lives out of state for the majority of the year was difficult,” Wilbourn said. “There were a lot of specific rules about that that I really did not know.”
This year, Wilbourn discovered that her mail-in ballot was incorrectly sent to her home address in Mississippi, resulting in her mother mailing the ballot to her school address. Once receiving the ballot, Wilbourn was required to find a notary and a witness in order to vote under Mississippi regulations.
Despite these challenges, Wilbourn urged others to vote.
“I hope and encourage everyone to vote as many times as possible throughout their lives,” Wilbourn said. “Exhaust your resources in exercising your right to vote and voice your opinion for the sake of all of our futures.”
Similarly, Diop said that she remains encouraged by her generation’s engagement to the election.
“You have a right to vote, so do your best to exercise it, even if it's difficult to do,” Diop said. “It's important to know that our vote does matter, and I think it's kind of cool that we're part of this generation and getting these young voters out there.”
If students have yet to register, same-day voter registration remains an option at polling places in Virginia. Students can verify their registration status through the Virginia Department of Elections citizen portal and locate the nearest polling station through the department’s website.