College Kids Count: How the pandemic could affect voter turnout this fall

Also, Colorado College students who violate COVID-19 guidelines may face suspension or dismissal

Good morning, and happy Friday. On this pre-pandemic date last year, “one-man band” Robert DeLong was performing in Colorado Springs at the Black Sheep. (Right now, Old Man Saxon is still scheduled to perform at the Black Sheep Aug. 8.) 

Today, we speak with a Colorado College parent and student team who are warning about how the pandemic could make college students a “lost generation of voters” in November’s election. Also, CC’s acting Dean of Students Rochelle Dickey explains the addition of COVID-19 guidelines to the college’s student conduct policies.

➡️ICYMI: Yesterday, we explained how Colorado College Priddy trips are trying to keep students safe during the pandemic, and we rounded up schools that are switching their fall plans because of increasing COVID-19 case counts.

🍑 Colorado College student Nick Penzel has a story in Pueblo's PULP about how "to prevent from becoming COVID-19 hotspots, Colorado’s universities look to change traditional campus culture."

Colorado College parent and student among researchers sounding an alarm: Effects of the pandemic on college students might extend to November’s election

65,000. That’s a conservative estimate of the number of absentee or mail-in ballots in primary elections so far this year that election officials rejected because they arrived past the deadline, according to a recent analysis by NPR. With the pandemic now displacing many students registered to vote in their college towns, that number could skyrocket in November. That’s the warning from former Clinton administration officials Thurgood Marshall Jr. and Steven Okun.

“The Pandemic’s Potential to Create a Lost Generation of Voters: and change November’s results,” read the headline of an article Marshall and Okun published yesterday in the Crystal Ball, a political newsletter at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. The article outlines the challenges college students could face in the voting process during the November general election if they’re not living on campus.

Marshall and Okun have been writing together since 2008, and their work includes regular contributions to The Straits Times in Singapore. Okun, who is currently living in Singapore, thought the obstacles expats face voting from abroad was a “perfect analogy” to the challenges college students may face while voting this fall.

“Where do we register to vote? How do we get an absentee ballot? Where do we send it? Which state do we even register in?” Okun told The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project in a recent Zoom interview. “There are systems in place to help expats, and there's no system in place to do that for college students because you never needed to.”

In 2016, just over 48% of college students voted, according to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement. Additionally, Marshall and Okun point to surveys about students not knowing how to register to vote or even where to get a stamp to mail their ballot as causes for concern about voter turnout this fall. 

Take Colorado College, for example. In the past, wide-eyed first-year students would walk into their dorm building, bags and parents in tow, and within minutes, a volunteer would offer them a clipboard with a voter registration form. After filling out the forms, the first-years could simply hand it back to the volunteers, who would take care of the rest. These “dorm storm” voter registration drives likely won’t be happening this year, which Marshall and Okun argue could affect how many college students vote in November.

“I think this year, operate under the presumption we’re not going to be on campus on Election Day,” Okun said. “Let’s get that absentee ballot now, and let’s vote now to make sure our vote is counted.”

In Colorado, locals have been voting by mail for all elections since 2013, when Democrats in the Legislature passed a package of liberal voting laws. In the most recent primary elections June 30, nearly 1.6 million voted in Colorado, a record turnout. In most other states, if someone wants to vote and won’t be able to go to a polling place on election day, they have to request an absentee ballot. They must request the ballot in time to receive it in the mail, fill it out, and send it back by election day.

Colorado College students received emails from the college reminding them to update their mailing addresses and explaining how to do so, to make sure they could receive their ballot for the primary election since many students were at home and the campus mail center cannot forward ballots. 

“Colorado is really special when it comes to their vote-by-mail laws,” Colorado College sophomore Bennett Okun told The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project. 

Bennett is working on a Colorado-specific take based off the article Marshall wrote with Bennett’s father Steven. For his own article, Bennett has been interviewing students from colleges and universities around Colorado about the challenges of being at home and their comfort with the vote-by-mail system. Just being at home for fall instead of on campus is giving some students different political perspectives than on-campus discussions. 

“For college students being at home surrounded by their parents and not being surrounded by peers is definitely influencing their thought process headed into November,” Bennett said.

At least one thing is clear: college students could be important to this November’s election. But first, voting advocacy organizations need to get creative, and “start now,” Steven said.

Roomies = ‘Household’: Colorado College administrators add COVID-19 expectations to student conduct policy

On Wednesday, acting CC co-presidents Mike Edmonds and Robert Moore told the college community that the Pathfinder (you know, that dense document about student conduct first-years sign likely without ever fully reading) now includes expectations for following COVID-19 guidelines. 

Here’s a breakdown of what those are:

  1. Students should follow all state and local public health orders in Colorado, “regardless of place of residence.”

  2. Students aren’t allowed to hold social gatherings of 10 or more people, on or off campus.

  3. Students are expected to follow social distancing guidelines both on campus and in public. The college considers roommates a “household,” so they can together.

  4. Students living on campus cannot host guests.

  5. Before coming to an area of campus outside of their residence, students are expected to take their own temperatures. If it is 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or more than 1.8 degrees above their usual baseline temperature, they should not come to campus until it returns to a normal range for at least 72 hours. This also goes for students who display symptoms such as: headache, dry cough, difficulty breathing, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, sore throat, or loss of taste or smell.

  6. Students are required to wear face coverings or masks that fit tightly and cover their nose and mouth everywhere except for their own room or apartment.

  7. Once back on campus, students cannot travel out of the state of Colorado, including during Block Breaks, until the end of the semester. If a student does travel out of state, they cannot return to campus and have to take classes remotely.

  8. Any student who tests positive for COVID-19 will have to participate in contact tracing efforts.

🚨“Violations of one or more of these expectations will be referred to the Community Standards and Conduct Specialist for review and may result in disciplinary charges under the college’s policy on Non-Compliance with College Officials,” the website reads.

Yesterday, we spoke with Rochelle Dickey, acting Dean of Students and acting Vice President for Student Life, about the Pathfinder changes, how the college will enforce them, and what else they are working on. Here’s what we learned:

These won’t be the only changes to the Pathfinder

For the past several months, the college has been working on a “deep dive” through the Pathfinder. The process started with a review during the 2019-20 school year from educator and consultant Takiyah Amin, who examined the Pathfinder through an anti-racism and anti-oppression lens and recommended changes accordingly. Then the college conducted an internal review and hosted focus groups, and are making revisions to the Pathfinder based on feedback from the reviews and focus groups. A Student Conduct Advisory Group also formed to review policies every year. 

“Despite best intentions, things become outdated, irrelevant, and we need to always take a look at those,” Dickey said.

The addition of COVID-19-specific guidelines, she added, are driven by the state of the pandemic in Colorado and El Paso County, as well as advice from El Paso County Public Health, UC Health Infectious Diseases, and the Campus Scientific Advisory Group. 

The COVID-19 policies will be a part of the college’s regular student conduct process, and students who violate these policies could face suspension or dismissal

“I’ve been at CC for almost 30 years, and really sort of in response to students who’ve said we’ve just got to make a message loud and clear, I think there’s a little bit of a harder line drawn in the sand,” Dickey said. “At the same time, we want to balance that with having an equitable and understandable process for students, but that safety and risk mitigation is our number one concern.”

To encourage students to follow these guidelines, the college is also working on a student-led “Reduce the Risk” communications campaign, and a community commitment about these guidelines. Similarly to the college’s statement about “Speaking Out Against Racism,” which nearly 900 members of the community symbolically signed in support, the college will encourage but not require signing the COVID-19 community commitment.

“The commitment is not just about … wearing the mask and this or that,” Dickey said. “The first [part] is about non-discrimination and recognizing that COVID has disparate effects on different communities. We’re asking for people’s patience, their understanding, their grace, their commitment to try to uplift others.”

About the CC COVID-19 Reporting Project

The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project is a student-faculty collaboration by Colorado College student journalists Miriam Brown and Arielle Gordon, Journalism Institute Director Steven Hayward, Visiting Assistant Professor of Journalism Corey Hutchins, and Assistant Professor of English Najnin Islam. Work by Phoebe Lostroh, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology at CC and National Science Foundation Program Director in Genetic Mechanisms, Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, will appear from time to time, as will infographics by Colorado College students Rana Abdu, Aleesa Chua, Sara Dixon, Jia Mei, and Lindsey Smith.

The project seeks to provide frequent updates about CC and other higher education institutions during the pandemic by providing original reporting, analysis, interviews with campus leaders, and context about what state and national headlines mean for the CC community. 

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