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OIS prepares abroad students for election

Jenn Metz | Thursday, October 30, 2008

As students on campus are scramble to send out absentee ballots before Nov. 4, the estimated 450 Notre Dame sophomores and juniors currently studying abroad are experiencing a very different presidential election season, complete with logistical difficulties for sending their vote to the United States to make sure it’s counted.

The Office of International Studies (OIS) helped prepare students by reminding them of the upcoming election during orientation sessions last spring, sending out pre-departure letters and posting links on their Web site.

Kathleen Opel. director of OIS, told the Observer the Office believes “voting is a vital component of democracy and strongly encourage[s] students abroad who are U.S. citizens to exercise the right to vote.”

“How many students actually vote, I don’t know,” she said.

Program managers reminded participants to remember to register for absentee ballots before they left the United States, a message that was repeated at OIS’ “Bon Voyage” meeting for all students last spring, Opel said.

Opel told the students their “franchise to vote is a privilege to be cherished, and recent elections have demonstrated the value of each vote” in a pre-departure letter sent over the summer.

The Web site offers scrolling reminders of the upcoming election and a link to the Association of International Educators’ (NAFSA) Web site, which provides information about absentee ballot procedures for students and educators living abroad, which are different than domestic absentee ballot procedures.

“Every state has different rules for voting, so it’s hard to give specific voting information to a group of students from different states,” Opel said. The NAFSA Web site, she said, provides that information for each state.

In some locations in capital cities, students may be able to vote in person at consulates, she said; other students send their vote in the mail.

Opel said OIS will assist students in the cases it advises it best not to use local mail to send absentee ballots to the United States; on-location program directors will send these ballots by DSL to ensure they arrive on time to be counted.

“Unfortunately, in some places, the local mail takes forever,” she said.

OIS will be sending out e-mails today reminding abroad students once again about the election and referring them to the Youth Vote Overseas Web site in the event their ballots are lost or late in arriving.

The United States election is a hot topic in various media outlets abroad, though not to the same degree as domestic coverage.

“I would imagine they are definitely talking about the election, especially in Europe,” Opel said.

Junior Clare Brady, currently studying abroad in Dublin, registered to vote through the NAFSA Web site before she left; it was sent to her in Ireland. When she received it, she filled it out and sent it back, citing no problems with mail delivery.

Brady said the United States election is a very popular topic of conversation in Ireland.

“People here are very, very obsessed with the election and love [Sen. Barack] Obama, just because they hate [President George] Bush,” she said.

The level of interest in the United States political system is very high; Brady said she noticed “some people here care more than people at home.”

She said the students do need to work and seek out election news a little bit, but that it’s “readily available.”

Junior Molly Conway, currently studying abroad in London, said “Londoners seem to be overwhelmingly pro-Obama.”

“They see him as being a breath of fresh air for American politics and they are very vocal about their endorsement,” she said.

Conway also voted by absentee ballot, which she also had mailed to her abroad location.

She said that due to the time difference, six hours for those in London, many students have been watching presidential debates on YouTube or other Web sites after they occur Stateside.

“But some people stayed up to watch them,” she said.