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Students cast votes from abroad programs

Joe Trombello | Monday, November 1, 2004

OXFORD – The campaign to increase the representative Notre Dame turnout in the upcoming presidential election has not been confined to South Bend, as students and administrators abroad say that international study programs are making great efforts to encourage students to vote and to provide information on overseas registration and ballot requests.

Laura Holt, associate director of undergraduate studies in London, said that she and other administrators have been especially active in sending e-mails reminding students to request absentee ballots.

“Voting is important, and so even in off-years I encourage London Programme students to make arrangements before they leave the U.S. to register and request absentee ballots,” Holt said.

Holt said she sent an e-mail to incoming program participants in April, as well as August and September, with election reminders and links to Web sites providing information on voter registration and ballot requests.

Administrators for programs in China and Mexico also said that they sent similar e-mail reminders to students, and Julia Douthwaite, assistant provost for international studies, said that the Office of International Studies sent information on the topic to students prior to their departures.

“The Office of International Studies staff has always done some effort to help students remain abreast of their duties as U.S. citizens,” Douthwaite said. “But we did also make more of an effort this year to encourage students to get absentee ballots and to vote.”

Douthwaite said that such efforts were done at her office’s initiative and not because of student requests or concern.

She noted that students in some programs seemed to show a heightening interest and involvement in the lection than others.

“The students in the Washington, D.C. program appear very excited and engaged in electoral politics. The students in other programs are less vocal in their interest,” Douthwaite said.

Administrators such as Kathleen Opel, assistant director of international study programs and manager of the programs in Rome, Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing and Nagoya, said that she has not received any information from her students regarding their intentions to vote.

“No students have contacted me for further information, nor have any told me that they were planning to request ballots or vote,” Opel said.

Aside from administrators’ efforts, faculty members teaching in foreign countries have also encouraged student awareness about voting from abroad. National Public Radio recently interviewed Notre Dame graduate and president of John Cabot University in Rome – the location of the Notre Dame Rome program – James Creagan about his efforts to encourage student voting, which included holding a voter registration drive.

Douthwaite said that the drive was well-attended, although she said she was unsure how many of the attendees were actually Notre Dame students.

“Hundreds of expats and students attended,” she said.

National organizations such as Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad have also been stepping up efforts to register students, expatriates and members of the armed forces, but none of the students or administrators interviewed mentioned volunteering for or being contacted by one of these groups.

As far as the number of students voting from abroad, the results have been mixed.

All six of the students at Oxford either voted early or requested an absentee ballot and plan to vote.

Anne Hayes, program coordinator for the International Study Programs and manager of the programs in Toledo, Rio de Janeiro (a Spring program) and Santiago, said that four of the nine students studying in Chile requested a ballot and planned to vote. She said that two students said they were not voting, and she said she has not heard back from the other three students.

Trevor Turner, a junior in the Dublin program, said that although he has not personally requested a ballot, he believes that the majority of students in Dublin have.

“I am not sure how many people have requested ballots here, but it feels like the vast majority according to how people talk about it,” Turner said.

Turner also said that voting was a topic of pre-orientation meetings and student conversation.

A number of students interviewed said that they requested a ballot and were excited to vote in the upcoming elections.

“I’ve voted absentee before while at ND, but I was especially interested in voting in this election because it’s a presidential election, and Ohio is such a key state,” Lisa Galli, a student from Columbus, Ohio studying in Santiago, said.

Ryan Lichtenwaller, a student studying abroad in Australia, said he thinks voting will help combat the perception of political apathy.

“I feel that even voting as an absentee is an opportunity, however small or naive, for me to personally stand up against that apathy,” he said.

Other students, however, said they did not plan on voting in the upcoming election.

Some, like Australia study-abroad student Benjamin Marx, said that their states were already a lock for one of the candidates, so therefore their vote would not make a difference.

“I came to the conclusion that as far as the presidential election goes, my vote doesn’t count,” he said. “Being from New York, I am pretty sure that John Kerry will get all … of my state’s electoral votes.”

Marx also described himself as someone who was only well informed about the presidential candidates and therefore chose not to vote in state or local issues.

“Nobody likes an ill-informed voter,” he said.

Other students, like Margaret Tucker, a student studying abroad in Santiago, said they chose not to vote because of their dislike of both major party and third-party candidates.

“I feel a real lack of a valuable choice in this election. I cannot in good conscience vote for either major party candidate,” she said. “There was no way I was voting for a Libertarian.”

Although Tucker described herself as being “more liberal,” she said that her father is a physician, and Kerry-Edwards health-care policy, as well as Edwards’ connections with medical malpractice lawsuits, ruled out that ticket. Despite her decision to abstain from voting, Tucker said she believes that this does not mean she is apathetic or uninformed.

“A lot of people have been giving me a hard time about not voting, but I feel like I’ve really considered the issues,” Tucker said. “I watched the debates, I read the American News almost daily, and I watch CNN World, just to keep in touch with what”s going on … I just realized that I don’t like either one [candidate].”

A number of students also said that despite having requested absentee ballots, they either have not received them at all or received them at their home address after they left. States have different requirements about receiving ballots, with some requiring the ballot to be received by an election official on Election Day, while others only requiring that a ballot be postmarked by Election Day.

Rin Westcott, a junior in the London Programme, said that she and other students who requested absentee ballots have not received them.

“I know plenty of people who applied for ballots and never received them,” she said. “The ones who did [receive ballots] all seem to be from California oddly enough.”

Students like Dana Lee, a Beijing program student, said that they and other peers have had to take advantage of the U.S. Embassy’s emergency-voting procedures because they have not yet received their requested ballots.

“What a mess the absentee ballot process seems to be,” she said.

At the same time, Lee said that she felt proud being able to vote in a country that does not permit its own citizens to do so.

“Once I passed the security checkpoint and walked into the compound, I was on free soil and I was able, that day, to exercise a right that the 1.3 billion people here in China do not have,” Lee said. “No matter how disorganized the system is, if you really want to vote abroad, you can.”