With the deadline for voter registration in the state less than two weeks away on Oct. 5, student organizations are ramping up their efforts to encourage students across the University of Mississippi campus and members of the Oxford community to register themselves to vote.
“There are so many reasons why it’s important to vote, but I feel like it’s particularly important for young people to register to vote because we make up a significant part of eligible voters, but then we don’t actually do it,” said Kaitlin Bethay, president of the UM law school’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapter.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2018 that only 45.7% of citizens in Mississippi aged 18-24 years old were registered to vote, compared to 49.1% of this age group nationwide.
While preregistration — the procedure that allows individuals younger than 18 to register to vote — varies in each state, Mississippi allows citizens to register if they will turn 18 by the next election.
“If your birthday is Nov. 2, and you’re 17 right now, you can still register to vote,” Bethay said. “This is where we live, and work and learn. We can’t just be upset about stuff. We have to make sure people know what we want, and the way we do that is by voting.”
The first day to vote in person in the state is Nov. 3, but should an individual need an absentee ballot, the U.S. Postal Service recommends requesting one by Oct. 19. The state also requires a reason other than COVID-19 concerns to request an absentee ballot.
In addition to the presidential election and local elections this year, hot-button initiatives like the new state flag and the legalization of medical marijuana will appear on the November ballot in Mississippi.
While campus organizations are currently restricted from hosting in-person events, the UM law chapter of the ACLU plans to make voter registration applications available in residence halls and in the student union.
Other organizations like the UM chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) and the Black Student Union (BSU) are also advocating for voter registration among students.
“Since my freshman year, I have primarily seen the push for voter registration come from the NAACP, but I think with the state of the country and the election coming up, everybody is hopping on board with NAACP taking charge,” BSU president Nicholas Crasta said.
Former NAACP chapter president Jalien Grant said the organization has held voter registration and participation as one of its core values since its founding.
“This semester, we’re focusing on voter registration, voter engagement and voter empowerment, so making sure that people are registered to vote and actually able to vote in November,” Grant said.
Grant also said the UM chapter of the NAACP plans to hold virtual events to encourage and educate students on how to vote.
To register to vote in Lafayette County, citizens can go to the circuit clerk’s office in the Lafayette County courthouse or to city hall. No documentation is required, but citizens must provide either the last four digits of their Social Security Numbers or their driver’s license numbers.
Mail-in registration can be completed by filling out the application on the Mississippi secretary of state’s website.