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September 16, 2004

Federal law Requires Universities to Help Register Student Voters

Oct. 4 is the last day to register to vote in this year’s presidential election. By that date, Pitt expects about 9,000 voter registration forms to have been distributed this year to students, staff and faculty.

A 1998 provision in the Higher Education Act requires colleges to make a good faith effort to offer voter registration materials to students at least 120 days prior to the last day of voter registration. But most college and universities are not in “strict compliance” with the law, according to a national survey by The Chronicle of Higher Education and the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. The study, to be published///// in the Sept. 17 //////issue of the Chronicle, noted that almost thro-thirds of college were making some effort to comply with the law.

“The University has made a good faith effort to provide forms and a letter with the registration deadline to students and new faculty,” said Jeanne Stoner, director of Federal Government Relations for Pitt.

Stoner’s office picked up 3,000 registration forms from the board of elections this year.

Another 3,000 forms are in the office of Yacov Crawford, student empowerment coordinator in the governmental relations committee of the undergraduate Student Government Board. He estimates that other non-partisan and political groups have generated another 3,000 registration forms.

Posters and registration forms were placed in the lobbies of the University’s residence halls. Public notices with voter registration information has been sent to the University Times and other local publications, according to Stoner.

Stoner points to several initiatives promoting voter registration on campuses nationwide, including the national campus voter registration project launched in 2000 by National Higher Education Associations.

Many working with voter registration and election issues predict a brisk year for voter registration, at least locally.

According to representatives from the NAACP and the League of Women Voters, there’s a focused campaign to register voters this election season. Whether it will pan out or bring out more voters is unknown.

New voter registration tallies aren’t available yet at Allegheny County’s election bureau, according to manager Mark Wolosik. “It’s been extremely busy since June,” Wolosik said. “Normally the last couple weeks of August are busy.”

According to Karen Elizabeth Lee, reservationist at the William Pitt Union, more groups have tried to come on to campus to register voters this year than during the last presidential election. “I’ve had to turn away groups,” she said. “I tell them the students have it covered.”

In addition to student organizations registering voters, the NAACP voter registration table, set up outside the Student Union, now averages about 20 to 25 registrations a day, according to volunteers Janet Sizemore and Willie Shelton.

As Pitt students mounted their own campaign to nail down new voters, called “Get out the Vote,” Crawford stressed the importance of students as a voting block. “One resident tower has more than 700 votes,” he said. “What’s important to us is to create a voting block on campus where students have a voice and can have that voice heard.”

–Mary Ann Thomas

Filed under: Feature,Volume 37 Issue 2

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