As a U.S. senator and a university president from Colorado, we’re proud of our fellow Coloradans for having the second-highest voter turnout in the country in the 2018 midterm election and hope to carry forward that momentum in 2020.
One group of voters who can help Colorado achieve the highest voting rate this year is college students, many of whom have the opportunity to vote in a presidential election for the first time.
But young Americans are facing unprecedented obstacles to voter registration, election information and poll access thanks to COVID-19, and it’s our job as civic leaders to make sure students have what they need to vote.
The nonprofit Rock the Vote estimates that Millennials and Generation Z will make up nearly 40% of American voters this fall. Their votes will shape our country’s future amid a pandemic that has disrupted life on our campuses and everywhere else.
Institutions of higher education are already required to send voter registration forms to students who attend classes in person, but COVID-19 has pushed more students to pursue their degrees online, and they shouldn’t be left out.
That’s why Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, proposed the National Emergency Student Vote Act in July, which, if passed, would require colleges and universities to send voter registration forms to all their students, including those taking classes exclusively online.
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For the first time, the bill would also have colleges and universities send absentee ballot applications to students who have been encouraged to remain off campus, provide nonpartisan voting information and remind students about election deadlines.
Leaders at Metropolitan State University of Denver know what a difference intentional civic engagement programs can make. In the last presidential election, MSU Denver had the highest undergraduate voting rate among more than 1,000 colleges and universities who participate in the ALL-IN Campus Democracy Challenge.
The National Emergency Student Vote Act would connect the 20 million voting-eligible college students across the country with the kind of support MSU Denver offers their students to help them register to vote and cast their ballots this fall despite the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic.
Throughout our history, Americans have overcome tremendous obstacles to cast their ballots and make our country more democratic, more fair and more free.
This year is no exception. As the late Congressman John Lewis, D-Georgia, wrote in his memoir, “Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”
In 2020, we must all do our part to not only pass on this democracy to the next generation, but give them every opportunity to shape its future by voting this fall.
Sen. Michael Bennet has represented Colorado in the U.S. Senate since 2009 and is a former superintendent of Denver Public Schools. Janine Davidson, Ph.D., is the president of Metropolitan State University of Denver. Davidson also serves as a presidentially appointed commissioner for the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service.
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