As the Nov. 3 election nears, in which much appears at stake for the nation’s future, Franklin & Marshall College students are showing an uncommon interest in registering and voting.
“These students have been so on top of it when it comes to making their plans to vote,” F&M Votes Co-Chair Jessica Haile said. “I’ve never worked with a group of students so ready to vote.”
For Haile, assistant dean for international student services, and her small team at F&M Votes, this year’s pandemic, and its effects on the College’s altered semester, has made practically everything problematic in terms of registering students.
“So much of what we do is face-to-face with students – helping them fill out forms, making sure everything is filled out. We now cannot do those things,” Haile said. “We are a small, but mighty, team right now and have had to pivot.”
In a typical year, the team visits about 50 different classrooms to present information about how to register, determine voter eligibility, and provide details about where to vote. This year, they visited some classes, but most has been done virtually, she said. Oct. 19 is the last day to register to vote.
“For the most part, students have been doing a fantastic job of paying attention to the instructions,” Haile said. “When something is wrong with the form, I’m able to text them immediately and they get right back to me because I’m texting them, not emailing them.”
F&M Votes’ website provides how-to guides and FAQs, and the team encourages students to email them with questions. This year, the Student-Athletic Leadership Council has partnered with F&M Votes in the effort to inform.
“The biggest issue we have right now, technically, is advising students how to vote, meaning, what method are they going to use?” Haile said. “We’ve been strongly telling students, ‘If you are worried about your ability to vote in person, do a mail-in ballot.’”
As a precaution, in case the College closes campus before Election Day, F&M Votes has advised those students who are doing a mail-in ballot to have their ballot sent to their home, which would allow their parents to send it on to them, in the event the campus remains open for in-person instruction.
“That’s like five more hurdles we never wanted to want to put our students through, but that was the safest way we could advise them if they had concerns about their ability to vote in person,” Haile said.
In Pennsylvania, mail-in ballots are new this year; the law was enacted in January. Mailed ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and must be received by county election offices no later than 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6.
Haile said it is important to remember that the mail-in ballot requires two envelopes: the voter’s ballot goes into the security envelope, which goes into the mailing envelope. The state’s Supreme Court said boards of elections can reject a ballot not in the secure envelope.
This week, the Lancaster Board of Elections launched a sort of early voting system. Registered voters can visit the board, request a mail-in ballot in person, complete the form there, and place the ballot in a drop-box there, Haile said.
“A lot of people don’t know that they can now go down to the Board of Elections, request a mail-in ballot in person –they will verify your registration – and then they will actually hand you a ballot right then and there,” she said.
The five drop-box locations for voter registration forms on campus are at the Steinman College Center, Shadek-Fackenthal Library, Martin Library, the Technology Lending Center in the basement of the Patricia E. Harris Center, and the Klehr Center for Jewish Life.
Students registered at their College address who plan to vote in person will do so at the Lancaster Theological Seminary on College Avenue, across the street from Old Main.