On her eighteenth birthday, Kara Nowakowski left her hometown of Mokena, Ill., to engage in the chaos of freshman move-in day at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y.
About three hours north, Danielle Affourtit’s eighteenth birthday was also spent carrying boxes and suitcases from her home in Selden, N.Y., up several flights of stairs as she moved into her dorm room at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y.
Amidst all of the excitement in moving in for their freshman year of college and celebrating their birthdays, there was one thing both girls forgot to do when they turned 18: register to vote. Some may be quick to denounce Affourtit and Nowakowski as part of an apathetic, young generation that is more concerned with Kim and Kanye than Obama and Romney.
Yet, for both women the main reason for not having registered was the small amount of civic engagement and education in their pre-college lives.
“If I hadn’t turned 18 just before I moved to New York, it would have been easier for me to register to vote, so timing was an issue –- it wasn’t something on my mind,” Nowakowski said. “Politics weren’t something that were generally spoken of in my high school. They weren’t treated as a big deal.”
Affourtit said she had the same experience with politics in high school, explaining that although teachers encouraged students to vote, they never told them about or showed them the process of obtaining a voter registration form. Although Affourtit acknowledged that she could have looked up the information online, since the 2008 presidential election had just passed and she hadn’t yet turned 18, registering to vote wasn’t something she was concerned about.
Neither Nowakowski nor Affourtit were aware that their states allowed voters to print a registration form online; they were both under the belief that they had to go to town offices to register to vote in person. They also said they did not know that they could register to vote while they were still in high school, as long as they turned 18 before Election Day.
“I had no idea about any of that,” Nowakowski said. “That just blew my mind.”
Still, Illinois and New York do not allow voters to register online (the printable form must be mailed in) –- something that both girls would like to see changed nationwide.
“I think that if people could register to vote online, a lot more people would register to vote –- especially young people, seeing as every 18-year-old knows how to use a computer,” Affourtit said.
The numbers seem to substantiate Affourtit’s claim.
The National Journal reports that 32% of all voter registrations completed in Washington state, which is one of 11 states that allow voters to register online, were completed online (not counting those done on-site at the Department of Motor Vehicles). According to the same article, data collected from 2010 through 2011 showed that 62% of all online voter registrations were completed by voters under the age of 34.
In addition to online voter registration, Washington state has become the first state to allow voters to access registration materials via Facebook –- appealing specifically to the young people who represent a large percentage of Facebook users.
“A majority of young people’s lives are spent on Facebook and Twitter, so to have an in-your-face reminder about registering to vote is probably a good idea,” Nowakowski said. “I just hope it’s not one of those Facebook apps that clog up your newsfeed –- that could be a turn off.”
The impact of Facebook on voter registration in Washington remains to be seen, but Nowakowski, who just registered to vote while back home in Illinois earlier this month, is just looking forward to voting in her first election.
As for Affourtit, she said she certainly will register to vote –- eventually.
“I figure I should just register to vote –- [New York] has already summoned me for jury duty, so why not register to vote?”
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