ANNAPOLIS – Every Maryland four-year college and university will be required to have a polling place under a bill designed to raise political participation among young adults.
The Student Voting Rights Act, House Bill 55, was heard in the House Commerce and Government Matters committee Wednesday.
The bill, introduced by Delegate Robert Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, just one week after the presidential election, was in response to the typical low numbers of college-aged voters, Zirkin said.
Voter turnout figures for the 2000 presidential elections are not available by age group. However, in 1996, only 31 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds voted, while 33.39 percent of 21- to 24-year-olds cast their votes, according to the Federal Election Commission web site.
“I just think there needs to be something to shake up the electoral process,” Zirkin said. “I think it’s important to have youthful ideas and youthful energy in the political system.”
Having polling places on every campus would not only make it easier for students without transportation to vote, but it would attract politicians to come to college campuses to campaign and give talks, he said.
“That will make young people more part of the process and more part of the community,” Zirkin said.
There are other obstacles to college-age voting in Maryland that the bill does not address.
According to state law, students who live in dorms and whose home addresses are out-of-state can vote only through absentee ballot, said Diana Moran, a Baltimore County elections clerk.
Dorm residents who try to register to vote in Maryland will automatically be rejected by the computer, she said.
Although “anything that lowers the barriers to voting is a great thing,” said Suzanne Smith, legislative director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, “it’s not going to mean a lot if [students] can’t vote because they live in dorms.”
“I think it’s a great bill but I would like to see the other barriers removed,” she said.