In 2007, when I was president of the college Democrats at the University of Memphis, I came up with the idea of putting an early voting location on campus. This would have encouraged college students to vote, and it would have been a convenient location for faculty, campus workers, and residents in the surrounding area to vote as well.
This is not a new idea. Collin County (TX) turned three of their college campuses into polling locations, and the result has been more civic engagement on campus and free exposure for the universities.[i]
As a member of the Shelby County Democratic Party Executive Committee, I passed a resolution, which required the local party to write a letter to the Election Commission suggesting that an early voting location be placed on campus. Everyone I spoke to acted as though this was a good idea, yet it never came to pass.
In our recent local elections, 18 to 24 year olds only made up 2.0% of the vote. 25 to 34 year olds only made up 7.2% of the vote. During the 2014 midterm elections, 18 to 24 year olds only made up 2.9% of the vote while 25 to 34 year olds only made up 9.1% of the vote.[ii]
Fortunately, the youth vote does make up a larger part of the electorate, when it comes to presidential elections. In 2012, according to the exit polls, 18 to 29 year olds made up 19% of the electorate while voters over 65 years were 16% of the electorate.[iii] To put this into perspective with our local elections, 65 and over voters made up 33.4% (a plurality) of the voters in the recent city elections.
We should encourage the youth in our city to vote, and one of many ways to do that would be to put early voting locations on our college campuses. Internship programs could be set up to allow students to work polling elections for college credit, or it could simply be tied to a class covering the election process.
Putting an early voting location on campus would even be convenient in comparison to the other locations that are used.[iv] Since the GOP took over the election commission, our election process has been plagued by errors. One of these errors led to a school board race being thrown out, and the very error that caused that election to be thrown out continued to occur in our recent elections.[v] I am no conspiracy theorist, but these errors have taken place to a point where I am no longer confident in our election process in Shelby County.
While the above probably belongs in a separate story, it would be nice to see the election commission at least get one thing right and place an early voting location at the University of Memphis.
I still believe we can make this happen. Please contact the election commission and encourage them to put an early voting location at the University of Memphis and/or other Memphis colleges.
John Marek is a criminal defense attorney and recently ran for Memphis City Council.
[v] https://www.memphisdailynews.com/news/2013/aug/19/armstrong-orders-new-school-board-election/; http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/government/Election-Commission-administrator-Holden-to-retire-at-end-of-year-360815031.html