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Online Processes Spike Voter Registration, Turnout

Photo courtesy of Loyola University Chicago Libraries Facebook PageIC volunteers help Loyola students register online on National Voter Registration Day.

The millennial generation — comprised of 18- to 34-year-olds — has overtaken the Baby Boomer generation — comprised of 51- to 69-year-olds — as the largest voting-age population, according to Pew Research Center. So, the way young people vote, and whether they choose to vote at all, during this upcoming election cycle will greatly influence who wins the presidency on Nov. 8.

Loyola political science professor John Frendreis said research suggests voter registration will increase when the process is easier.

“The ease of voter registration … had an impact on voter turnout,” Frendreis said.

Frendreis said online voter registration has the potential for voter fraud, but it has more potential to simplify the process for young voters, which he said translates to larger turnout.

“In a [presidential] election … total voter turnout is typically around 55 to 60 percent,” Frendreis said. “But among registered voters it’s much, much higher, like over 80 percent or more.”

Loyola’s Information Commons (IC) held an event on Sept. 27, which was National Voter Registration Day, to get students registered to vote in time for Election Day. The event was part of the university’s “#LoyolaVotes2016” effort, which also includes presidential debate watch parties and election research workshops.

During the voter drive, students registered online on the first floor of the IC. Volunteers printed out voter registration forms and absentee voter request applications for students who will not be in the state in which they are registered on Election Day.

Laura Berfield, the political papers archivist for the Loyola Libraries, worked the event at the IC. She said it was a success; more than 200 students visited the drive.

“Students realized … how easy it was to register,” Berfield said. “I think, overall, students were very happy we were doing it and there to answer questions.”

First-year Duncan Carmichael will be voting in his first presidential election next month. He registered online in his high school government class and found the whole process efficient.

“[It was] very simple, very quick,” said the 19-year-old undecided major. “I was able to register pretty easily, and then in the [presidential] primaries, I voted.”

Carmichael is registered in his homestate, Indiana, and said he will probably ask his father or sister how to request his absentee ballot. He said he will go online if he still has questions after asking family members.

One way the state of Illinois tried to make voting easier was by allowing same-day Election Day voter registration at polling places across the state. Until recently, state law allowed the practice in all participating counties before it was struck down as unconstitutional by a federal judge who said the law favored Democratic-leaning counties in Illinois with higher populations.

Facebook has also used its reach to make voter registration simpler. On Sept. 23, the social network website displayed a reminder to register that provided a portal for users to access their states’ registration websites.

The event seemed to significantly increase voter registration in Chicago and Cook County. The county saw 3,592 people sign up between midnight and 2:30 p.m. that day, according to city and county election officials.

Loyola senior Oriana Fleming is registered to vote in Ohio. She took advantage of updating her registration when she renewed her driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

“[They asked], ‘Do you want to register to vote,’ and I said ‘yes,’ … It was really quick,” said the 21-year-old English major.

Fleming described the process as “very easy” and added that when she was unsure of her registration status, a quick Google search brought her to a website called “CanIVote.org,” which easily confirmed her registration status.

In order to vote in Illinois, applicants must be a U.S. citizen 18 years old or 17 years old before or on the date of the primary election, must live in their precinct for at least 30 days before the election, must not be convicted of a crime and must not claim to be registered to vote in another state, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Illinois’ online voter registration deadline is Oct. 23.

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Closer Look Editor

Michael McDevitt is a senior journalism major from Quincy, Massachusetts and the Closer Look editor for The PHOENIX. He started out as a news writer for The PHOENIX in 2015, worked as an assistant news editor in 2016 and as news editor in 2017-18. When he's not editing stories, Michael's probably watching “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

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