By Ellie Brookbank, Junior Political Science Major, Salisbury University (Md.)
My name is Ellie Brookbank and I am currently the Political Director for the Maryland College Democrats and the President of the Salisbury University College Democrats. At the start of the Maryland General Assembly’s legislative session, I also became an intern for Maryland State Senator Bobby Zirkin (D-11) who has served the Maryland assembly since 1998. Senator Zirkin, who is the Chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee, recently proposed a bill (Senate Bill 141) that would require a polling place be established on all higher education campuses that house students.
As the student leader of a political organization, I am thrilled about the effect that this piece of legislation could have on increasing student voter turnout and overall civic engagement. During the past election cycle, both the Maryland State College Democrats and the Salisbury College Democrats were working to make sure that students were informed about when and how they could vote. On Salisbury’s campus specifically, both members of the College Democrats and College Republicans participated in voter registration tables in conjunction with PACE (Salisbury’s Institute for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement). From participating in many of these voter registration tables, handing out voter information at various school events, and discussing voting procedures during club meetings, I was able to get a sense of the obstacles students face when voting.
During the first hearing of Senate Bill 141 (track the bill here) in the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, I testified on behalf of this significant bill and also helped to organize students from all over Maryland to share both their oral and written support for this bill. During my testimony, I highlighted that absentee ballots are often the only option for students who are not able to go back home to vote, do not have the transportation to get off campus to a polling location, or are not comfortable going off campus in general. Although absentee ballots may be the only way of voting for students, many are not aware of what they are, or how to request them. Having a polling place directly on college campuses would make voting significantly more accessible for students who are living, working, and volunteering in the communities where they attend school.
Although this bill is still in committee, I am optimistic that the members of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee will realize the critical role this legislation could play in increasing student voter turnout. Even if Senate Bill 141 does not become law this legislative session, I hope that it will spark a discussion between Maryland students and schools about the accessibility of voting on their individual campuses.