Dozens of students unable to vote after registration confusion

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Only Lafayette Votes! had authorization to register students to vote on campus. (Photo courtesy of Dylan Gooding ’23)

On Election Day last Tuesday, several Lafayette students were unable to vote at the polling location in Kirby Sports Center because of issues with their voter registration. The vast majority of those who experienced these registration issues had signed up to vote with external groups, some partisan, that were canvassing on campus in violation of college policy.   

After receiving messages about some students being turned away at the polls, Kait Ahern ’23, Dylan Gooding ’23 and director of the Landis Center Chelsea Morrese — all members of Lafayette Votes! — went to the polling station in Kirby Sports Center on Election Day.

The three spoke to students who were unable to vote because their names did not show up on the poll workers’ registration list. Only some of the students received provisional ballots, which are given by poll workers to individuals whose eligibility to vote may be contested. 

“These students had gone through the application process. They had thought they had submitted everything. To the best of their knowledge, they thought they were registered to vote,” Ahern said. 

Ahern and Gooding are not sure whether incompetence or ill intent was to blame for the mistakes made by the external organizations in registering students to vote.  

Detailing one of the reports she heard, Ahern said that one organization allegedly informed students that they did not need their social security number to register to vote when in fact they did. That group then allegedly advised students to turn in their applications incomplete. While the students were told they would be contacted in the future to confirm their social security number, that never happened, Ahern said. 

It was not exclusively students who had signed up to vote with these outside groups who had problems with their voter registration. For example, Gooding said that a batch of voter registration paperwork sent by Lafayette Votes! got lost in the mail by the U.S. Postal Service. 

“There was a trend, [however,] between students who registered with these groups and not being able to vote,” Gooding said. 

Both Gooding and Ahern, wary of assigning blame as they investigate the matter, declined to disclose the names of the groups that had been on campus. They agreed, however, that the groups should not have been on campus.  

According to Article VII of the Lafayette College Student Handbook, any group must receive approval from the college to solicit on campus. Morrese added that any organization that wants to come on campus needs to be approved by the Office of Events and Planning, have a signed contract and send an insurance certificate.  

None of the groups on campus did that. Only Lafayette Votes! had the authorization to register students, Morrese said.  

Gooding explained that members of Lafayette Votes! approached the external groups and informed them that they could not be on campus as it was private property. While some left, others gave them a harder time and returned to campus. 

Director of Public Safety Jeff Troxell said that his office had been informed about the issue by Lafayette Votes! and worked with Morrese to ensure that these groups did not return to campus.  

“We asked [Morrese] to call us when [members of these groups were on campus]. I think we responded a couple of times, and when we got there, those individuals were gone,” he said.

The problems with registration impacted a significant number of students. According to Morrese, 31 students were turned away from the polls at the Kirby Gym location, 19 of whom returned and filled out a provisional ballot.

The actual number of students impacted, however, is likely higher.

“It wasn’t just students who were turned away at the polls. It was also students who didn’t even bother showing up to the polls because when they checked the registration, nothing showed up for them. So this issue extends beyond the damage that we saw at the actual polls on Election Day,” Ahern said.  

On Election Day, Gooding and Ahern contacted the election hotline to report the problems. Independent of the college and Lafayette Votes!, they spoke with a representative of the Northampton County Board of Elections.  

“When we called the county board of elections, the representative we spoke with said that one stack of applications from Lafayette students, seventy-five percent of them were void,” Ahern said.  

The Northampton County Board of Elections could not be reached for comment.  

Ahern and Gooding have also reached out to the Northampton County solicitor, who provides legal services to elected officials and all agencies of the county, but are awaiting a response.  

“We want to make sure this never happens again. If a single person is denied the right to vote, that’s a huge issue,” Ahern said.  

Going forward, Gooding said that Lafayette Votes! will begin registering students to vote earlier in the year. The group also plans to switch to the online voter application to avoid problems associated with traditional paper and pencil registration, like handwriting and mailing issues.

Ahern added that she hopes the college will take a stronger stand on preventing unapproved organizations from canvassing on campus. 

“It’s very sad to see passionate students at Lafayette basically lose the ability to vote in this critical election where the youth vote was so important,” she said.