With the 2020 primary and general elections looming, student voting accessibility is being monitored both nationally and locally. Despite continual efforts to establish a polling place on campus, including an Associated Student Body (ASB) resolution, Lafayette County circuit clerk Jeff Busby doesn’t believe it will happen before the 2020 elections.
“I would like to see (a polling place on campus),” he said. “But I don’t foresee that happening anytime soon. Most of the precincts are in and around the university, so they’re not far, and there’s transportation to all precincts.”
He said that polling places are not too far for students and added that the Oxford – University Transit (OUT) buses will transport students to polling places in this year’s elections. The buses also went to polling places for the November 2019 election.
Students with an on-campus post office mail box, for example, can vote at the Mississippi State Extension Office, which is on Buddy East Parkway in Oxford. This is approximately a 10-minute drive from campus to the Extension Office for students to vote. On an OUT bus, which has multiple stops depending on the route, this trip could take longer.
Busby said he lacks specific knowledge on how to create a campus polling location, but added that he will research to determine the possibility of it.
“The truth is (that), I haven’t looked into that much,” he said. “I’m speaking on not a lot of knowledge of that situation. A year from now, I could know a bit more about the ins and outs or why it would be feasible to do. I absolutely plan to look into it.”
ASB President Barron Mayfield called a campus polling place essential for student voters and said that while he is satisfied with campus efforts to improve accessibility, he feels that local officials have not done enough.
“(Getting a polling place on campus is) something we’ve passed a resolution through (ASB) Senate for, but it’s really on the local election officials to take action — something they don’t seem interested in getting done,” Mayfield said.
In Oct. 2018, the ASB Senate unanimously passed a resolution urging Lafayette County to create a campus polling place. At the time, the authors of the legislation were cognizant of the logistical issues in creating a campus polling place, but hopeful that the resolution would put pressure on the County to meet their goals.
In March 2019, Mississippi State University was designated a “Voter Friendly Campus” by the Fair Election Center’s Campus Vote Project. It is the only Mississippi university and one of only two Southeastern Conference schools with that distinction.
Campus Vote Project works with colleges and universities to reduce barriers to student voting by advocating for policy reforms and providing information for students to register and vote. It has staff in seven states and Washington, D.C. and is in partnership with campuses in 23 other states.
To become a Voter Friendly campus, a school must develop a strategy with goals pertaining to upcoming elections. The process includes five phases, from the submission of interest to the actual designation, which lasts for two years.
Mike Burns, the national director for the Campus Vote Project, said that while Ole Miss has not had any problems preventing it from attaining designation, it simply has not applied for consideration to be a Voter Friendly Campus. Burns cited accessibility issues in Mississippi.
“I am not aware of specific issues at Ole Miss,” Burns said. “But I can say that Mississippi as a state could do a lot to improve everyone’s — including students’ — access to registration and voting.”
Burns named the lack of online voter registration and early in-person voting as two major voting issues that Mississippi needs to reform, along with adding an on-campus polling place.
“Addressing these two issues alone could greatly expand the ability of all Mississippians to register and vote, including young and student voters who are far more familiar with conducting business online and may have trouble accessing polling places due to class and work schedules, along with access to transportation,” Burns said.
While Chancellor Glenn Boyce declined to answer specific questions regarding his recent student voting discussions with the ASB Senate or the possibility of a campus polling location, he said in an email that he is committed to making Ole Miss a voter-friendly campus.
“The responsibility falls on us to ensure that we encourage involvement from all individuals, especially our students here at Ole Miss,” he said. “I will work hard to make our university a voter-friendly campus and will ensure that we are providing opportunities for our students and members of the campus community to play their part.”
The Ole Miss student voting website, located at vote.olemiss.edu, had not been updated since before the November 2018 midterm elections. As of Feb. 20, the site includes a countdown clock until the March 10 primary election and links to register, obtain an absentee ballot and resources for residential students looking for their polling place.