Colleges & Elections

The 1998 Higher Education Act required colleges and universities to distribute paper copies of in-state voter registration forms to students prior to their home state’s voter registration deadline.  This requirement applied to all federal and gubernatorial elections, as well as to special elections for such offices.

The 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act clarified the use of email messages with links to state registration forms as acceptable, as long as the messages are exclusively devoted to voter registration.  The complete statute follows:

SEC. 487. [20 U.S.C. 1094]  PROGRAM PARTICIPATION AGREEMENTS.

(a) REQUIRED FOR PROGRAMS OF ASSISTANCE; CONTENTS.-In order to be an eligible institution for the purposes of any program authorized under this title, an institution must be an institution of higher education or an eligible institution (as that term is defined for the purpose of that program) and shall, except with respect to a program under subpart 4 of part A, enter into a program participation agreement with the Secretary. The agreement shall condition the initial and continuing eligibility of an institution to participate in a program upon compliance with the following requirements:

(23)(A) The institution, if located in a State to which section 4(b) of the National Voter Registration Act (42 U.S.C. 1973gg-2(b)) does not apply, will make a good faith effort to distribute a mail voter registration form, requested and received from the State, to each student enrolled in a degree or certificate program and physically in attendance at the institution, and to make such forms widely available to students at the institution.

(B) The institution shall request the forms from the State 120 days prior to the deadline for registering to vote within the State. If an institution has not received a sufficient quantity of forms to fulfill this section from the State within 60 days prior to the deadline for registering to vote in the State, the institution shall not be held liable for not meeting the requirements of this section during that election year.

(C) This paragraph shall apply to general and special elections for Federal office, as defined in section 301(3) of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (2 U.S.C. 431 (3)), and to the elections for Governor or other chief executive within such State).

(D) The institution shall be considered in compliance with the requirements of subparagraph (A) for each student to whom the institution electronically transmits a message containing a voter registration form acceptable for use in the State in which the institution is located, or an Internet address where such a form can be downloaded, if such information is in an electronic message devoted exclusively to voter registration.