Next September, first-year students at Harvard College will be able to register for more than Molecular Biology, Expository Writing, and Introduction to Old Norse; they will also have the opportunity to register to vote.
Although Harvard has complied with recent federal legislation requiring colleges and universities to help students register to vote in local elections, one group of students felt that there should be more options available.
“We thought that students should be able to vote in their home states if they chose,” said sophomore Trevor Dryer, who serves on the student advisory committee of the Kennedy Schools Institute of Politics (IOP).
Dryer and a small group of like-minded undergraduates developed a plan to enable first-years to request absentee ballots from their home states when they registered for classes in the fall. Under this plan, students will find voter registration forms in their registration packets, which they will be able to fill out and return to student volunteers. At this point, they will also have the option of filling out an absentee ballot request form from their home state. The volunteers plan to have forms from all electoral jurisdictions available at a table in Robinson Hall.
According to Dryer, the plan could never have been put into place without the help and support of members of the Harvard faculty and administration. They include: IOP Director Alan Simpson; Vice President for Government, Community, and Public Affairs Paul Grogan; Associate Vice President for Government, Community, and Public Affairs Jane Corlette; Freshman Dean Elizabeth Studley Nathans; and Faculty of Arts and Sciences Registrar Arlene Becella. The new system will have its first trial when freshman registration takes place on Sept. 11.
“Hopefully, well be able to do this every year, and over time all undergraduates will have the choice of either voting locally or in their home state,” said Dryer. He believes that registering students in this way will be more effective than the door-to-door voter registration campaign which he and fellow students conducted last fall.
Dryer, a history and literature concentrator, said that the importance of voting was made clear to him when he worked in the Czech Republic as a missionary for the Mormon Church during a two-year leave of absence after his freshman year.
“So many people there were excited about being able to vote in real elections. It made me realize how lucky we are to live under a democratic system of government,” Dryer said.