While in college, students are stuck between two places — their hometowns and their college towns. While families and old friends might be far away, most immediate interests and responsibilities are in their college town. How does this split residency translate to how college students vote?
Legally, students have a kind of dual residency and are free to vote from their hometowns or to register to vote in their college towns. The Symm v. United States decision in 1979 protects students from certain discriminations when registering to vote in college towns. Where students vote is entirely their choice, and that choice can hinge on different factors.
David Keel, a sophomore public policy leadership major from Illinois, votes in his home state.
“I don’t plan to live in Mississippi after college, and it would be kind of a hassle to switch just for two years,” he said. “Also, all my family lives in Illinois, so I would rather vote for changes that are going to affect them rather than just myself.”
This is a common sentiment among students who plan on returning home after they graduate, as they continue to have a vested interest in those policies.
Caroline Bass, a senior international studies major, registered to vote in Lafayette County her sophomore year, but switched her registration back to Tennessee soon after. She said she remains invested in the political climate there for a specific reason.
“I have a friend that was given the death penalty in Tennessee … and I decided I want to vote in elections that affect his life because he doesn’t get to vote,” Bass said. “(Elections) like the governor of Tennessee are a really big part of his process because (the governor) can grant clemency if it gets down to him being executed.”
While many students choose to vote from home, some students encounter challenges when doing so. Meredith McDonald, a sophomore accounting and public policy leadership double major, is still registered in Forrest County. However, she said this choice has introduced many difficulties for her.
“I found it very difficult to figure out where to get my absentee ballot from,” she said. “I had to go to a third party website and type in all this information about myself for them to finally give me an email address to contact because my city government’s home page wasn’t up to date.”
Even after ordering her absentee ballot, McDonald said her troubles didn’t stop. She was told the county would send the absentee ballot to her in two to three days, but it took a week. McDonald said the ballot was hard to understand, and if any information she filled out was incorrect, the ballot would not have been accepted.
McDonald said this concerned her because she was not sure every student would be as willing as she was to take the trouble to navigate the absentee voting process.
“Mississippi has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the country, and if we are making it so difficult for people to absentee vote, then of course it’s going to be difficult to get people to vote, which is basically just voter suppression,” she said.
The concept of voting where one lives because of convenience often pushes students to vote in their college towns.
Shannon Hicks, a graduate student studying higher education and student personnel from Louisville, Kentucky, is registered to vote in Lafayette County. While she says she is more invested in Kentucky politics and feels more knowledgeable about candidates at home, she said she chooses to vote in Mississippi because it is more convenient.
Hicks said voting in person was not only easier, but it introduced a sense of accountability.
“(Vote) wherever it’s easier for you to vote, because I think a lot of my friends that stayed registered where they’re from didn’t actually request an absentee ballot, and for me I knew it would be easier if I walked in and voted,” Hicks said.
Jarvis Benson, a senior Spanish and international studies double major, is registered to vote in Lafayette County even though he is from Grenada. He said there are several reasons why voting in Oxford makes more sense for him.
“First, I think it is more convenient to fit time here with a busy schedule,” Benson said. “Second, I vote in local elections. The policies affecting Lafayette County are more important than those in Grenada to me because I spend the majority of my time in Oxford. Third, I can now bring a friend to the polls with me.”
While these students feel strongly about whether they vote from home or from their college town, they feel even stronger about their peers voting.
Audreaiona Waters, a senior exercise science major, is registered to vote in Lafayette County rather than in Texas, where her family lives. In Waters’ opinion, it doesn’t matter where students vote as long as they vote.
“I feel like everyone should get out and vote more than anything because our generation (doesn’t) understand how important it is,” she said. “Every vote matters, every vote counts.”