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Not registered to vote? National Voter Registration Day is a good opportunity

David Floyd • Sep 23, 2019 at 11:03 PM

In fall 2018, organizers at East Tennessee State University registered 300 students to vote across 18 individual events.

Tuesday is National Voter Registration Day, and ETSU Votes hopes to add to its tally by hosting a voter registration “blitz” at multiple locations across campus to encourage students to register and become more civically engaged.

Various student groups will be in attendance, and representatives from the Washington County Election Commission will be on hand to help certify registrations. Organizers also hope to have a food truck and photo booth at the event.

“We’re trying to put on as big an event as possible to make sure that students are not only registered to vote but they’re also excited to get involved in the process,” said Seth Manning, the graduate assistant for ETSU Votes.

ETSU Votes is a program in the university’s office of leadership and civic engagement that aims to promote voter registration and engagement on campus.

According to a 2019 report from Tufts University, average voter turnout among college students during the 2018 midterm elections more than doubled compared to the rate in 2014, jumping from 19% in 2014 to 40% in 2018.

“We’re seeing more and more that (college students) are getting out to vote, or they’re increasingly becoming registered,” Manning said.

Manning said students have also increasingly shown interest in issues that they feel have a direct impact on their lives, like climate change and the proliferation of student debt. This has encouraged them to be more engaged in the political sphere.

Most students ETSU Votes talks to, Manning said, want to be registered or are already registered. There are few students that indicate they would prefer not to be registered.

Manning said that hesitance could have several reasons, but there isn’t one that stands out. Students might not feel that they have time to be engaged politically, or in the divisiveness of the modern political climate, they could prefer to avoid taking sides.

Manning said students shouldn’t feel that registering to vote confers an expectation that they have to go out and vote or commits them to any one political side.

“This doesn’t bind you to anything,” Manning said, “but at the end of the day, if you do change your mind down the line and you do want to vote, then it’s good to go ahead and be registered.”

Local numbers

There are 77,197 people currently registered to vote in Washington County, according to the county election office. In total, 45,544 Washington County citizens voted during the mid-term elections in November 2018.

  2019 Registered Voters 2018 Turnout
Washington County 77,197 45,544
Unicoi County 10,346 6,370
Carter County 33,746 18,865
Johnson County 10,006 6,042

Local counties reported strong voter turnout during the 2018 midterm elections: 58% of registered voters in Washington County, 60% in Unicoi County and 55% in Carter County.

This robust local turnout mirrored statewide numbers, which showed that more than half of registered voters in Tennessee, about 56%, voted in the 2018 midterm election. That marked the highest turnout for a midterm election in Tennessee since 1994.

How to register

Eligible Tennessee citizens can register to vote in a variety of ways, according to the Tennessee Secretary of State website.

You can register online at ovr.govote.tn.gov, download and fill out a voter registration application from the secretary of state website and mail it to your county election office, or you can pick up an application at your county election commission office, county clerk’s office, public library or register of deeds office.

To qualify, applicants must be a U.S. citizen, 18 years old by the time of the election and a Tennessee resident. Those with felony convictions could be ineligible to vote depending on the circumstances of their case. You’ll need to be properly registered no later than 30 days before the election to participate.

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