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Students, Campus Staff, and Good Government Groups Back Bill to Require Polling Places on Many University Campuses -- to Expand College Student Voting

Bill would expand access to voting for college students
for Immediate Release

Annapolis--College students, university faculty and staff, and good governance organizations joined House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke and Sen. Clarence Lam in support of the Student Voter Empowerment Act (HB245/SB647), which aims to increase student voter participation and civic engagement.

The bill would require both public and private universities with more than 4,200 undergraduate students to have a polling location on campus. This would include Bowie State University, Frostburg State University, Johns Hopkins University, Morgan State University, Salisbury University, Towson University, University of Maryland, College Park, and University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

The bill also requires public universities to put a link on their websites for voter registration and to designate a staff member to be the student voting coordinator and develop a “student vote plan.” 

“The Towson University Student Government Association is thrilled to support the Student Voter Empowerment Act,” said Jordy Diaz, the Towson SGA Director of Legislative Affairs. “We’re looking forward to working with the Maryland General Assembly to bring about meaningful change that will not only increase voter participation but create a strong voting culture on all Maryland campuses.”

Low levels of youth voter turnout has been well documented, and experts say that one of the primary causes is the voter registration gap between younger and older voters. In 2018, only 54% of Marylanders aged 18-24 were registered to vote, compared to 66% of Marylanders over the age of 18.1 However, young people who are registered to vote turn out in high numbers, very close to the rate of older voters.2

“Voting serves as a building block for active civic engagement,” said Rishi Shah, Maryland PIRG’s Democracy Associate. “As new voters, young people often struggle to navigate the voter registration system. Universities can play an important role in ensuring eligible students can participate in elections.”

House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke and Senator Clarence Lam have introduced the legislation to increase student voter participation by helping students navigate the voter registration process and making it easier for students to participate on Election Day.

“We do a lot to teach young people about how government works. But not enough to ensure they actually have a chance to participate in government,” explained House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke.  “The Student Voter Empowerment Act will help enfranchise thousands of young people across Maryland.” 

“The Student Voter Empowerment Act is a meaningful step for state government to recognize students’ interests and encourage their participation,” said Michael Hanmer, a Government and Politics professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. “The benefits to the individual students will be clear in both the short term and long term.”

HB245 had a hearing today in the House Ways and Means Committee, and is expected to have a Senate hearing soon.

1.  “Reported Voting and Registration by Age, for States: November 2018”, US Census Bureau, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/voting-and-registrat...

2. “Youth Voting,” CIRCLE, https://civicyouth.org/quick-facts/youth-voting/ .

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Maryland PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) is a state based, non-partisan, citizen funded public interest advocacy organization with grassroots members across the state and a student funded, student directed chapter at the University of Maryland College Park. For forty five years we’ve stood up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.

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