For many college students and for people who temporarily move away from home, absentee voting is the only option to be politically involved. Despite absentee ballots being a well-known option for voting, student absentee voters often face challenges when attempting to make their voices heard.
Hattiesburg local Mickie Stratos voted in the regular election last year but was out of town for the special run-off elections. Stratos was unable to get the absentee ballot information mailed in on time due to it being so confusing, so they just didn’t vote.
“The absentee voting process isn’t very well documented, nor is it easy to find someone who has the answers,” Stratos said. “Last time I tried, it took me a while to even determine how to submit an absentee ballot and even longer to figure out how to get one.”
In Mississippi, absentee voters can contact their Circuit or Municipal Clerk’s Office at any time within 45 days of the election. The Secretary of State website for Mississippi provides clear information for military or overseas citizens who plan to vote through absentee ballot, but it does not provide a clear link for people such as students who wish to utilize an absentee ballot.
“I am aware that deadlines exist but I’m not sure what they are. I don’t think [absentee ballots] are advertised well enough, at least not to my market,” Stratos said.
Mississippi has made it illegal for third-party organizations such as vote.org to provide or distribute absentee ballot applications. The fastest way to receive an absentee ballot application is by calling the Local Election Office and asking for one.
Stratos said that they believe having the option to request absentee ballots online would help students be more politically involved.
“I’ve requested absentee ballots online in other states and it really streamlined the process,” Stratos said. “Absentee voting could be improved for everyone for sure.”
Senior public relations major Ty Trehern has voted with an absentee ballot since he has been at Southern Miss. Although he believes the process is simple, he thinks students choose not to vote due to their busy schedules, their lack of political beliefs and their lack of interest in politics.
“I feel like college students don’t vote more often because there is so much that goes into politics, and I genuinely think that some students just don’t want to take the time to understand,” Trehern said. “I also think that students are already so busy, that they don’t want to add onto their already demanding schedules.”
Other students choose to simply drive to vote in person. Senior social work major Jane Claire Arender is registered to vote in Rankin County. Since becoming a student at Southern Miss, Arender has driven an hour and a half to her voting precinct.
“I prefer to drive because my family holds a value on voting. We have gone as a family to vote over the last few elections,” Arender said.
Arender said that she knows that most students are not able to miss class and drive to their voting precincts. Like Stratos, Arender thinks that in order to get more students to vote, absentee ballots should be more easily accessible.
“For students, it might be helpful to have absentee ballots accessible on campus and have a collection place on campus, especially for those without cars,” Stratos said.
The Circuit Clerk for Forrest County did not respond to request for comment.