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CT college students struggle to make it to the polls, state elections officials say

Voters cast their ballots in the 2022 general election at the New Haven Hall of Records polling place.
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
File: Voters cast their ballots in the 2022 general election at the New Haven Hall of Records polling place. While many high school and elementary schools around the state are used as polling stations, officials say putting polling stations on college campuses is more difficult.

College students in Connecticut rarely vote in municipal elections according to elected officials.

National elections have higher participation by all voters, but the ratio of adults to college students in municipal elections is disproportionate.

There are a number of reasons for low turnout according to Matthew Waggner, the Democratic Registrar of Voters for the town of Fairfield.

Waggner said student groups at Fairfield University and Sacred Heart University, both located in Fairfield, are often split down partisan lines and the civic duties are headed up by institutions. Having students lead these efforts may help.

Waggner recently hosted a voter registration drive with students from Sacred Heart.

He noticed students walking by the table were much more receptive to peers who were working the event.

“I’m going to make requests of your time and you’re likely not to respect that unless you have a personal relationship with someone. Schools want students to be involved because they will have a much higher success rate than an outside bureaucrat,” Waggner said.

Polling access is another issue facing college students. Many college students do not have access to cheap personal transportation and institutions are unlikely to provide transportation in smaller elections.

State Rep. Gregg Haddad, a Democrat who represents the town of Mansfield, has been trying to put polling stations on campuses through legislation.

The difficulty with legislating comes from limitations that are already in place.

Every polling location has certain requirements that need to be met. One requirement is that established polling places can’t just be for certain elections, but would have to be available for all elections.

There have been efforts to establish the University of Connecticut as a polling location. But Haddad said many lawmakers in the state legislature believe it may come as a waste of resources if students don’t feel passionately about a smaller election.

Haddad said UConn is hesitant to set up polls on campus. He said the university wants assurance the polls will be properly staffed.

For a school like Fairfield University, which has a much smaller population of in-state students, on-campus voting could create a logistical nightmare. A voting district line which separates Fairfield and Bridgeport runs directly in between several dormitories on campus.

Haddad thinks there is room for compromise.

“Putting polling places on college campuses would make college students feel heard. It’s critically important that we involve college and high school students and make it easier for them to vote,” Haddad said.

Municipal elections take place across Connecticut on Tuesday, Nov.7.

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