Last month, WTOP, one of the bigger stations in the DC area, ran a report on a local focus group that I found hard to believe. Six weeks later, however, I'm rethinking my skepticism.
A Fairfax County focus group this summer found many college students who have gotten an absentee ballot simply fail to send it back because a U.S. Postal Service stamp seems to be a foreign concept to them."One thing that came up, which I had heard from my own kids but I thought they were just nerdy, was that the students will go through the process of applying for a mail-in absentee ballot, they will fill out the ballot, and then, they don't know where to get stamps," Lisa Connors with the Fairfax County Office of Public Affairs said."That seems to be like a hump that they can't get across."
For context, I should emphasize that Fairfax County, just outside of the nation's capital, is a massive county with a population of over 1 million people. It has multiple urban centers and universities.
In other words, we're not talking about an isolated rural area where post offices and access to stamps may seem scarce. It's the exact opposite. The idea that young adults in the area aren't sure how to mail a ballot seemed utterly ridiculous.
And yet, the DC-area focus group may not have been a fluke. New York magazine published an unusually depressing report yesterday, profiling 12 young adults who explained why they're unlikely to vote this year. There was some variety in the excuses they came up with, but there was a mail-related thread that came up several times.
* Megan, a 29-year-old San Franciscan who last voted in 2014, complained about the vote-by-mail window of opportunity. "Typically," she said, "I check way before [the deadline], then forget to check again, or just say 'F*** it' because I don't own a printer or stamps anyway."
* Anna, a 21-year-old Texan living in New York who has never voted, complained about the hassles Texas has created for those who want to vote absentee. She added, however, "When I was at the post office to register, this poor girl, clearly also a college student like me, didn't know what "postmarked" meant and had no idea how to send an important document by mail. Most people my age have zero need to go to the post office and may have never stepped into one before. Honestly, if someone had the forms printed for me and was willing to deal with the post office, I'd be much more inclined to vote."
* Jocelyn, a 27-year-old in Massachusetts, referenced a chronic illness before adding, "You can send in your registration by mail, but I didn't have stamps."
* Tim, a 27-year-old Texan who has never voted, added, "I hate mailing stuff; it gives me anxiety."
I've written a couple of times in recent months about young voters, the importance of them casting a ballot, and the frequency with which they don't. But it honestly never occurred to me that stamps and the post office would pose a meaningful hurdle.