National Emergency Student Vote Act Would Engage Colleges and Universities to Help Students Register and Vote in the 2020 Elections

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), along with Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL-08), introduced the National Emergency Student Vote Act to help college students nationwide exercise their right to vote in the 2020 elections, even as millions are displaced from their campuses due to the pandemic. 

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has forced many colleges and universities to close their campuses, dislocating millions of students nationwide and complicating questions about where and how they will vote. As the pandemic continues into the fall, the urgency grows to help the approximately 20 million voting-eligible college students register and cast their ballot in the upcoming elections. The National Emergency Student Vote Act ensures that even if students are not on campus this fall, colleges and universities would still have to share resources to help them register to vote, request absentee ballots, and be informed about their different options to vote depending on their preference and eligibility. Bennet, Klobuchar, Durbin, and Booker are filing the legislation today. Congressman Krishnamoorthi will introduce a companion bill in the House of Representatives.

“This pandemic has already cost millions of students the benefit of an in-person education at colleges and universities across the country, and now uncertainty about their fall residency threatens their right to vote,” Klobuchar said. “The National Emergency Student Vote Act would help nearly twenty million students understand their options for voting, register to vote, and request absentee ballots. The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy, and we must ensure that young people can exercise that right in November.”

“For the millions of college students who had to abruptly leave campus and still don’t know if they’ll be returning this fall, this pandemic has created enormous uncertainty about where and how they will vote,” said Bennet. “The National Emergency Student Vote Act calls on America’s colleges and universities to fulfill their civic responsibility in this difficult time to help students access the voter registration forms, absentee ballot applications, and other resources to cast their ballot. We cannot allow the pandemic to keep millions of students from exercising their fundamental right to vote and shape our future in this democracy.”

“While many colleges and universities are reverting to online learning this fall to protect students, faculty, and staff during this public health pandemic, it doesn’t change the fact that many college students are newly eligible voters who are in need of vital information about their voting options,” said Durbin. “I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce the National Emergency Student Vote Act to ensure that college students across the country will continue to receive voter registration forms and absentee ballot applications so that they can safely exercise their right to vote during this public health emergency.”

“College students have always faced unique and difficult barriers when trying to exercise their right to vote, but the pandemic has created an entirely new set of obstacles for the tens of millions of college students who don’t know when or if they will be able to return to campus,” said Booker. “Our bill will ensure that colleges and universities are devoting time and resources to protecting their students’ sacred right to vote during this crisis and empowering them to make their voices heard at the ballot box.”

“During a pandemic, providing voters the necessary information and resources to exercise their right to vote is more important than ever. That’s why I’m proud to introduce the House version of this legislation, which requires institutions of higher education to provide eligible students with voter registration information and absentee ballots,” said Krishnamoorthi. “I want to thank my Senate partners in this effort, including Senators Bennet, Klobuchar, Durbin, and Booker, and I plan to do everything in my power to ensure the pandemic doesn’t prevent all Americans from exercising their constitutional right to vote.”

“The COVID-19 crisis presents substantial challenges to young voters, many of whom already face significant barriers to having their voices heard and votes counted under normal circumstances,” said Sylvia Albert, Director of Voting and Elections at Common Cause. “Colleges and universities have a civic duty to ensure that all their eligible students can exercise their right to vote, and Common Cause commends Senators Bennet, Klobuchar, Durbin, and Booker, along with Congressman Krishnamoorthi, for introducing the National Student Emergency Vote Act to help amplify the voices of all student voters.”

“We need to do everything we can to ensure every eligible voter is able to cast a ballot during this pandemic. We’re proud to endorse the National Emergency Student Vote Act and applaud Senators Bennet, Klobuchar, Durbin, and Booker, along with Congressman Krishnamoorthi, for their commitment to protecting voting rights for all Americans,” said Tiffany Muller, President of the End Citizens United / Let America Vote Action Fund. 

"Much as DMV's have assisted millions of Americans register to vote, colleges and universities providing voter registration assistance help some of the newest members of our democracy navigate the registration process by meeting them where they are. The National Emergency Student Vote Act is imperative in updating the Higher Education Act to meet the needs of students during the current pandemic and in case of any future emergencies,” said Fair Elections Center's Campus Vote Project Director Mike Burns.

“Students deserve a voice and a vote. Yet, well before COVID-19, college students faced unique barriers in both registering to vote and voting, including voter ID laws, limited on-campus polling locations, and closed early-voting sites. Having long served as incubators of civic engagement, institutions of higher education must now answer the call to protect students' right to actively participate in our democracy. The National Emergency Student Vote Act takes the important steps of ensuring colleges and universities provide students nonpartisan resources to help students register to vote, request absentee ballots, and cast their ballot,” said Jesse Barba, Senior Director of External Affairs, Young Invincibles.

“NASPA is pleased that members of Congress are emphasizing the importance of voter registration efforts during the current pandemic. Helping students understand how and where to register given the complex mosaic of state election laws is especially important this year. This bill is solidly aligned with NASPA’s ongoing efforts to increase students’ civic learning and democratic engagement,” said Dr. Kevin Kruger, President, NASPA.

The legislation is also supported by Public Citizen and New Era Colorado.

The National Emergency Student Vote Act would: 

  • Help students register to vote. Under the Higher Education Act, colleges and universities are already required to send students “physically in attendance” voter registration forms where they attend school. The National Emergency Student Vote Act modifies the requirement to clarify that even if students are not physically on campus, colleges and universities should still provide them with the national mail registration form, along with credible, nonpartisan resources to help them determine where they are eligible to vote.  
  • Help students request absentee ballots. The bill says that if a college or university has asked or encouraged students to remain off-campus, it would have to send absentee ballot applications to students along with clear instructions that they are only for those eligible to vote in that state. At the same time, it would also share credible, nonpartisan resources to help students registered elsewhere apply for absentee ballots if they choose to.
  • Help students cast their ballots. Thirty days before the election, colleges and universities would have to remind students about election-related requirements and deadlines, including deadlines to submit absentee ballots, along with current and credible information to help students understand all their options to vote, such as early voting and Election Day voting. 
  • Colleges and universities can satisfy each of the requirements  above with a dedicated email to students containing the relevant information.

The bill text is available HERE. A one page summary of the bill is available HERE