We're calling on Gov. Hogan to support the Voter Empowerment Act

Today, over three dozen student leaders throughout Maryland sent a letter to Gov. Hogan in support of the Student and Military Voter Empowerment Act (HB0156/SB0283).

Today, over three dozen student leaders throughout Maryland sent a letter to Gov. Hogan in support of the Student and Military Voter Empowerment Act (HB0156/SB0283). 

We should make every effort to increase voter participation by making voter registration and the act of voting simple and accessible to all eligible voters. Unfortunately, many eligible Marylanders, including young people and military members, are not voting.  

In Maryland PIRG’s 45-year history of working to register students to vote and running non-partisan voter registration drives, we have found that most people we talk to want to and intend to participate in voting, but as new voters, they often struggle to navigate the voter registration system or forget they need to update their registration every time they move.

And the coronavirus crisis compounded these issues during the 2020 elections. Students were unable to update their voter registration or request absentee ballots online because they didn’t have a Maryland State ID, and many students we worked with were unsure where to have their ballots mailed since they weren’t sure if their dorm would suddenly close. Military personnel who frequently move from state to state faced similar challenges.

Low voter registration and turnout has long-term impacts on our democracy. Numerous studies have shown that voting is habit forming, and people who vote are more likely to become habitual voters that participate in elections for the rest of their lives.

In order to increase civic participation we need to help young people and military members get registered to vote and ensure they have the tools they need to turn out on Election Day. For example, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) created a cross-campus coalition of staff, administration, faculty and students and put together a thorough voting action plan. As a result, MICA became the school with the highest voter registration rate in the country, with 95.2% of eligible students being registered to vote.

During the 2020 elections, Maryland PIRG students helped register and turn out thousands of University of Maryland students to vote. Election after election in states across the country, we have found that if we ask students to vote and help them navigate the system, they will. We should reduce the barriers faced by young people trying to register to vote and go to the polls.

This legislation reduces the barriers that students and military members face when registering to vote and turning out. It ensures that:

  1. Military members can use their Department of Defense-issued ID, the Common Access Card, to register to vote online;

  2. Local Boards of Elections will seek input from large residential institutional communities, including college campuses, nursing homes, and military installations, when they select polling locations;

  3. Universities will post the link to the online voter registration form on the website students use to register for classes to keep it visible;

  4. Public universities will have a student voter coordinator, who will take point on forming a plan to support student voter registration and ensure students have the information they need to register to vote and turn out. 

We are calling on Governor Hogan to encourage first-time and young voters, promote civic engagement, and bolster our democracy by signing the Student and Military Voter Empowerment Act into law.