Duke revamps voter registration efforts

Coming soon to a mailbox near you: a North Carolina voter registration form, compliments of the Office of Student Affairs.

Forms will be placed in student mailboxes starting Wednesday as part of a University effort to better comply with the federal Higher Education Act.

The law mandates that institutions of higher education "make a good faith effort to distribute a mail voter registration form" to all students.

Associate Vice President for Federal Relations Chris Simmons said a speaker series and "Get Out the Vote" advertisements in student-targeted media will be part of a concerted push during the election season.

The University will not host candidate forums, as it has in the past.

Simmons said he expects that forms will be distributed on a biennial basis.

"In July, [Student Affairs] compiled a survey of what other colleges and universities do vis-a-vis voter registration forms," he said. "I think this is the best-faith effort you could make. People have to at least touch the forms, even if it's just to throw them in the trash."

New York University also distributes forms to student mailboxes. Yale University hands the sheets out with registration materials.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill runs registration campaigns through student groups and makes an application available on the website of the registrar's office.

In previous election years, the University placed forms in high-traffic locations such as the Bryan Center, and links to the form were posted on the Community Service Center website.

"There's been some argument that that wasn't a good-faith effort," Simmons said, adding that the law's vague wording allows for a wide range of interpretations. Simmons joined the University in February and said he was unaware of where the criticism originated.

He met with Elaine Madison, director of the Community Service Center, in late June to discuss compliance with the HEA.

He said he was informed July 11 that Student Affairs had decided on mailbox distribution as a result of the survey of peer institutions.

The decision to mail forms this year will cost 20 cents per mailing, for a total of nearly $1,250.

The HEA was originally passed in 1965 and governs a wide range of subjects, including federal financial aid.

The voter registration form requirement was added in 1998 as an attempt to combat dropping voter registration rates in the 18-25 age bracket.

The government, however, is prohibited from giving guidance on how to comply with the rule.

"They could fine us, or in its most draconian form, they could come in and take away our Title IV funding, which covers Pell grants and loans," Simmons said. But he added that he was unaware of any incidents where colleges were fined for non-compliance with the clause.

Senior Douglas Goldmacher said he doesn't think the effort will increase student voter registration in Durham. Goldmacher plans to vote absentee in his home state of New York.

"Things that affect me [at home] are really more important," he said. "As a student, I'm only going to live here a few years, but I have to live with my senator for six years and I've got my governor up for election this year, too."

Statistics are not available on how many Duke students are registered to vote in Durham.

However, the two precincts dominated by the University's campus-precincts No. 2 and 5-have only 4,739 registered voters, while approximately 5,500 students live in on-campus housing, according to Residence Life and Housing Services.

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