Letter: N.J. public advocate encourages college students to vote

Despite all of the media coverage about the youth vote in last year’s Presidential election, college students and young people in general have not voted in elections as often as their older counterparts.

Even in last year’s historic presidential election, there was an 11.6 percent gap between the participation rates of New Jersey citizens age 18 to 24 and the citizenry as a whole. This year’s election presents an opportunity for students to help narrow that voting gap, and make sure their voices are heard.

As a public advocate, I have made voting issues a priority. As a former college professor, I have a particular interest in seeing today’s youth get more actively engaged in the electoral process.

On Nov. 3, New Jersey registered voters have a number of choices to make. Voters will choose a Governor and Lieutenant Governor, members of the state legislature and a variety of county and local officials. In addition, voters will decide on one or more ballot initiatives.

This year, New Jersey’s improved vote-by-mail program is making it easier for citizens to cast their ballots. As a result, a greater percentage of New Jersey residents are likely to exercise their option to vote by mail. For students, it is a relatively simple process and a good way to ensure that you cast your vote, even if you are registered at your parents’ home and can’t get to the polls on Election Day.

Here are some voting facts that college students need to know.

Where a registered student votes depends on where he or she is registered to vote.

Students registered to vote at a school dormitory, apartment, or off-campus housing address will vote in the town where that dormitory, apartment, or off-campus residence is physically located.

Students registered at a home address, such as a parent’s house, will vote in the town where that home address is physically located.

All registered voters are mailed a sample ballot a few days before the election containing the exact location of the polling place. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.

Registered students — like all voters — also have the choice to vote by mail. If you want to vote by mail, here is what you do:

A registered voter can apply for a vote-by-mail ballot by getting an application from the state Division of Elections Web site at njelections.org/mail-in_doe.html.

The completed application must be filled out and sent to the Clerk of the county where the voter is registered. Those addresses also are available on the Web site. If you are mailing the application, it must be received by the Clerk by Oct. 27.

If you are concerned that the Clerk won’t receive your application by Oct. 27, you can drop off your completed application in person at the Clerk ’ s office up until 3 p.m. on Nov. 2.

If you mail the application in, you should receive your vote-by-mail ballot in the mail. If you drop off your application to vote by mail after Oct. 27, you should be given a ballot at that time.

A voter who believes he or she is properly registered but is denied the right to vote may obtain a provisional ballot on Election Day, and the ballot’s validity will be reviewed after the polls close. A voter also can opt to go before a judge that same day, to seek an order to vote on the voting machine.

Voting, whether in person or by mail, is one of the most important and powerful ways to be heard in our system of government. No eligible voter should miss out on the opportunity. If you are registered, please vote in this year’s election. If you are eligible to register but have not done so yet, it is too late for this election but please register so you don’t miss participating in future elections.

Ronald K. Chen
Public Advocate of New Jersey