Augustana students lose voting opportunity due to registration folly
Millions of voters deliberately yielded their right to vote in last week’s election, but a group of Augustana students lost that right due to a mail mix-up.
An estimated 20 to 25 students who signed up to vote through a registration drive conducted by the Augustana Committee of Undergraduate Political Scientists (COUPS) were not allowed to cast their vote on Election Day.
The registration forms filled out by the students were sent to the Minnehaha County Auditor’s Office but were never received, leaving the students unregistered and unable to vote, according to government professor and COUPS faculty advisor Emily Wanless.
Wanless said all registration forms gathered during the drive were sent to and received by their respective state offices except forms specifically from South Dakota students. She added that all forms were mailed before the registration deadline.
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of unknowns,” Wanless said. “All we know right now is that [the forms] were mailed, that all the others from different states were received and those specifically from South Dakota were not.”
The registration drive was held on Sept. 27, National Voter Registration Day. In all, an estimated 200 students registered during the drive.
After the event, forms for South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa were mailed by a student to their respective destinations from the U.S. mail office in the Hy-Vee on Minnesota Avenue.
In previous years, Wanless took the forms directly to the Minnehaha County Courthouse, but this year COUPS appointed a member to mail the forms.
Neither COUPS nor the auditor’s office know why the forms were not received, though speculations ranging from insufficient postage to mishandling on the part of the U.S. Postal Service have been discussed.
COUPS was not aware of the missing forms until the day before Election Day after being contacted by the Secretary of State’s Office inquiring about a student who had participated in the registration drive but was not registered, Wanless said.
Freshman Taylor Hetland was frustrated that she could not participate in her first election after “trying to not be ignorant” since the primaries.
Hetland added that she doesn’t understand how the forms could have gone missing and is frustrated that COUPS did not notify students the day before Election Day.
“I just don’t understand how you could run a drive and tell all these people that they are going to be registered and not get them registered and not tell anyone,” Hetland said. “They didn’t say anything. If I didn’t hear a rumor that was going around, I would have left to vote and would have waited in line for nothing.”
Wanless said COUPS did not inform students because, to avoid a breach in confidentiality, they did not document all who had registered and did not have enough information at the time to comment.
Freshmen Cortney Ihnen said she is frustrated that she could not fulfill her civic duty.
“Not being able to take part in something that—not being able to be a good citizen—it’s disappointing,” Ihnen said. “It feels like I got [the right to vote] taken away, and I couldn’t do my duty as a citizen.”
Co-president of COUPS Alejandro Garcia said that he understands the justified frustration.
“As a COUPS president, we are deeply sorry for this,” Garcia said. “It was their right, and we took it away. If we do [the registration] again, we’re going to make sure that every step is followed correctly.”
Garcia also said that he hopes students affected do not believe the mistake was intentional.
“At the end of the day, we don’t care about who [the registrant] votes for, we just care that they vote,” Garcia said. “As a government club, we just want people to recognize the importance of government and how it affects our daily lives.”
Co-president of COUPS Cheyenne Zephier, who was in charge of mailing the forms, said she is deeply sorry that the documents were not received and hopes that this mistake doesn’t discourage anyone from voting in future elections.
Zephier added that she did not vote because she felt responsible for students who were unable to vote.
“If other students couldn’t vote, I shouldn’t either,” Zephier said. “I thought since other students’ voices weren’t heard, mine shouldn’t be heard either.”
Wanless said everyone can learn something from the mistake.
She said COUPS is implementing procedures to prevent similar mistakes in future drives, like asking registrants if they would like to be notified when the registrations are received and processed, dropping the forms off at the courthouse by hand and, if the forms needed to be sent by mail, sending the documents with a return receipt.
“It can be done better,” Wanless said. “The unfortunate part is what had to happen for us to change.”
Zephier said the mistake is a hard-learned lesson that everyone involved will not soon forget.