It was March 15, 2016, a day long anticipated by many Wheaton students. Even though junior Connor Jenkins was a registered voter in Missouri, he still went to the polls to support his friends who were voting for the first time. But what should have been a productive exercise of their democratic rights soon dissolved into a discouraging communication meltdown at the College Church Commons voting location.
“There were more obstacles put in their way so that they couldn’t vote than resources and information so that they could vote.” Jenkins said of his friends.
With that in mind, Wheaton https://thewheatonrecord.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/IMG_0048.webpistration moved this semester to simplify the registering and voting process, when dozens of students were refused permission to register as out-of-state voters, and some were forced to wait for 6 hours and sent to multiple polling places to finish the process.
The confusion from last March’s Illinois Primary stemmed from a series of inconsistencies and misunderstandings about a new law.
The Illinois Grace Period Registration Law, enacted on January 10, 2015, enabled people to complete a same-day registration if they have been an Illinois resident for at least 30 days prior to the election day, which would have benefitted students who aren’t from Illinois. But instead of simplifying the process, the law further muddied the already-complex system for many Wheaton students.
Because on-campus students technically don’t live at 501 College Avenue, even though their packages and mail are sent to that address, students were unable to provide any proof of address when prompted by polling officials. Moreover, Wheaton students found some election officials unhelpful. Sometimes the pieces of mail that Wheaton students brought as proof of residency were received as valid, and sometimes they weren’t. One reportedly laughed and shrugged at a student asking for help.
“The election judge was not being patient with students,” Jenkins said. “They were asking questions, and he wasn’t answering them. He was being incredibly rude with them.”
The tally of those turned away due to misunderstandings about residency documentation may have been as high as 40, according to sources at the polls on March 15.
Vice president for Student Development Paul Chelsen told The Record that he took steps to ease the process for student registering and voting by checking with the Election Commissioner’s Office in DuPage County to make sure that the waivers of residence verification would be accepted at the polling place.
Chelsen said, “My staff spoke with the Election Commissioner’s Office on the phone on two different occasions to clarify acceptable content when writing the proof of residency letter so students can register and vote at the polling place on Election Day in November that is assigned to their housing address.”
Student Government issued an email in September informing students about the legal documentation, accompanied by a waiver from the college as proof of residency.
Unfortunately, when addressing the issue of unhelpful election officials, the college’s hands are tied.
“Wheaton College has no influence over the process to assign election judges to local polling places,” Chelsen said. To defend against any trouble with election officials, Student Development has planned a voter education series to take place in Lower Beamer at the display tables, and arranged email updates on the election.
Chelsen said that the programming will “empower students to have the information they need to engage the elections with confidence and awareness.”
Framing a divisive election
A little more than two weeks before the general election, Wheaton https://thewheatonrecord.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/IMG_0048.webpistration is planning an event called “iVote” as one method to inform the school’s students about the voting process, and how to think about voting as Christians.
Dean of Student Affairs Steve Ivester is organizing iVote, which is slotted to take place after Fall Break, on Oct. 20.
The speaker lineup at iVote will include faculty speakers like professor of political science Amy Black, who will offer students the tools to consider the election candidates objectively as they approach voting. Associate professor of communication Theon Hill will also speak about navigating the media representation of the election.
Throughout his 20 years at Wheaton College, Ivester said there has never been such a divisive atmosphere on campus regarding an election. He believes that iVote will help Wheaton College to come together as a community, rather than be hesitant to address the topic for fear of being criticised.
Ivester said, “It’s a complicated election and we can be quick to judge. Being reasonable gives us a way of framing the issue without causing offense.”
Senior Logan Treat felt like students at Wheaton are not comfortable aligning themselves with candidates in this election season.
“There’s so much discontentment surrounding both the candidates,” Treat said.
Some students’ concerns over the election season may have been magnified due to the hardships they experienced at the College Church Commons. Jenkins said that the election officials “blatantly disrespected the process and the students, to the point where it almost discouraged students from voting.”
Jenkins believed that many Wheaton students will either vote for a third party candidate, write in a candidate of their choice, or refuse to vote at all.
Senior Adam Wolcott, who said he aligns more with the Republican party but is an undecided voter, is considering writing in a candidate.
“If I were to vote for one of the two candidates, I wouldn’t be voting my conscience,” Wolcott said.
Although the official registration deadline was this Tuesday, Oct. 11, out-of-state students can still register thanks to the Illinois Grace Period Registration Law. According to the County of DuPage’s website, anyone can take advantage of grace period registration by going to the DuPage Election Commission from Oct. 12 to Nov. 7 to register to vote. In order to do so, students need to bring two forms of identification. Students from out of state need to bring their proof of residency letter.
Chelsen said that the DuPage Election Commission urged students to register to vote before Nov. 8, when lines are anticipated to be long.
The DuPage Election Commission’s address is 421 N. County Farm Road, in Wheaton, IL. They are open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.