Student voters encounter obstacles, organization pursuing action

Students and first-time voters were turned away from the polls Nov. 6 because of improper identification and poor voter education, initial research by the Arizona Advocacy Network shows.

AAN, a nonprofit advocacy organization focused on voter rights, formed an election administration task force to compile information about voters who had trouble at the polls and work with election officials to find solutions or pursue litigation if necessary, Executive Director Sam Wercinski said.

About 100 complaints have been filed with AAN, Wercinski said.

“The majority of those people that were impacted were college students,” he said. “I personally witnessed the unequal application of our election laws by poll workers.”

Wercinski said he saw an ASU student turned away from the polls because he showed up with a utilities bill on his iPhone as proof of residency instead of a physical copy, even though electronic forms are legally acceptable.

Wercinski said this unequal application of the election law is usually a result of poor poll worker education.

The problems ASU students experienced mainly came from having improper identification forms, not going to correct polling locations and registration form problems from the Arizona Students’ Association and ASU’s Undergraduate Student Government.

Some students who were registered by ASA and USG had problems at the polls because their registration forms either did not go through or were flagged.

USG Tempe Vice President of Policy Brendan Pantilione, who also sits on the ASA Board of Directors, said in a recent USG Senate meeting that these problems arose because USG and ASA used the National Voter Registration form to register students instead of the form used by Arizona.

Pantilione said overall the federal form was easier to use to register voters, especially for out-of-state students.

The U.S. District Court of Arizona ruled in August that the state had to accept these federal forms.

The main difference between Arizona’s form and the federal form is the type of identification required to register.

“Everywhere else in the U.S., it didn’t seem to be a problem, but with our county recorder, a few people did get shot back,” Pantilione said.

Pantilione said USG tried its best to help students who were given provisional ballots, offering rides to the County Recorder’s Office to present the necessary identification.

Wercinski said when he became aware of the problems with the National Voter Registration form, he contacted Arizona’s Secretary of State and significantly reduced the number of voters on the watch list from 10,000 to about 1,500.

Business law sophomore Alessandra Bermudez was unable to vote even though she registered twice through USG because her form never went through.

Bermudez tried to register in Maricopa County through USG last year as a freshman after moving from Graham County, Ariz., but decided to register again this fall because she never received confirmation that she was registered.

As Election Day drew near, Bermudez checked her registration status online and found no record of it.

She contacted the USG intern who registered her, visited the USG offices and called the Arizona Secretary of State, but by then the registration deadline had passed and everyone told her there was nothing they could do.

“I was extremely mad about it, to say the least,” Bermudez said.

She said she still does not know why both of her registration attempts fell through, although she suspects it is because of carelessness on the part of USG.

“I don’t think (voter registration) was taken seriously,” Bermudez said.

She said it became more of a competition with UA about the number of students registered than a serious responsibility.

Journalism freshman Kaard Bombe experienced a similar situation.

He said he registered to vote with ASA in September after moving from California and was confused when he did not receive any voter information from the state.

“I just figured I didn’t get it in the mail,” Bombe said.

His roommate, who had also registered with ASA and had not received any confirmation, called ASA, who told him the forms had been rejected by Maricopa County because they couldn’t prove residency.

Bombe voted with a provisional ballot but said ASA never directly contacted him to inform him of the situation.

ASA and USG pushed voter registration on all four campuses this semester, and ASA registered about 3,500 students at ASU, breaking previous records.

Wercinski said AAN recognizes the difficulties some students had because of the registration process and hopes to hold seminars on how to effectively manage voter registration drives in the future.

He added that the majority of ASU students registered by ASA and USG were able to vote.

“What USG and ASA did was a real service to students,” Wercinski said.

After analyzing all the data AAN gathers from this election, Wercinski said he hopes to work with election officials to make voting more accessible to students.

He said he wants to make it possible for ASU students living in the dorms to show the addresses listed on their myASU pages as proof of residence.

This wouldn’t require any new laws, just approval by the election officials, Wercinski said.

“These are just really simple fixes,” he said.

 

Reach the reporter at tnhoman@asu.edu