The University of Maryland SGA voted to support easier absentee voting in College Park elections at their first meeting of the semester Wednesday.
As the city's election process stands, voters can only use an absentee ballot if they provide a compelling reason for being unable to vote in person — such as a business trip or attending a university in another state.
This means that many students who are residents of College Park and students at this university might be prevented from voting in city elections, because having class during the voting window is not a viable reason to request an absentee ballot.
The Student Government Association voted to endorse a College Park City Council measure that would permit absentee voting with no excuse at all, aligning the city with Maryland's policy.
"We make it harder to vote by having to have some excuse to be able to exercise one of your fundamental rights," said SGA President A.J.Pruitt, a senior economics and government and politics major. "It's really important we address this because it gives a whole lot more power to the residents of College Park, to be able to make the change that they want in the city."
The legislation was introduced as an emergency measure, in order to pass it with sufficient time to take the recommendation to the College Park City Council, which is scheduled to vote on the issue within the next two weeks.
[Read more: SGA recommends UMD fund diversity dialogue program]
Jonathan Allen, the speaker of the legislature, said he generally keeps a strict policy on introducing emergency bills, but with the time frame and the importance of this recommendation he was willing to make an exception.
"A core value to the SGA, and something we've been continuously working on and towards, is voter turnout in local, state and federal elections," said Allen, a junior government and politics major.
Chris Keosian, the SGA's director of city affairs, said the city council is likely to approve the absentee voting changes, as Mayor Patrick Wojahn promoted them as a his campaign promise.The issue was a hot topic during November's city election, after which all of the council's incumbent candidates were re-elected. Three university students ran for council, but none were elected.
Keosian, a senior government and politics major, asked the SGA to invite their friends out to the city council meeting on Feb. 6, saying it would show the council that students care about being represented.
"They know that already, but I think it's a good reinforcement that students are residents of the city, students are paying attention to the city council, students don't only pay attention during election time and then go away for two years," Keosian said. "The city council represents us as much as they represent other citizens."