University of Rochester

Rochester Review
September–October 2012
Vol. 75, No. 1

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The Student Voter’s Dilemma
fea_election_sidebar (Illustration: John W. Tomac for Rochester Review)

You’re an undergraduate at school in Rochester. You’re from California. You’re not registered to vote. What are you to do?

You might try calling your parents and asking. You might punch a few terms into Google and see where it leads you. Or you might be lucky enough to run into Andrew Cutillo ’13, the senior coordinator for the student-led initiative in Arts, Sciences & Engineering that’s come to be known as R’ World, R’ Vote.

This year the initiative gets a new name—the Committee for Political Engagement, or CPE—but the main mission is the same, says Cutillo, who’s been involved in it since he was a freshman.

“The main thing we do is make sure everyone’s registered, help people with absentee ballots, and for people registered on campus, make sure they can get to the polls.”

A political science major from Clark’s Summit, Pa., Cutillo says a student’s rights are clear, even if the process of registering and voting doesn’t initially seem to be.

“A student has a right to register to vote either in their hometown or wherever they’re living to go to school, the idea being that they’re in a transitional period in which they’re part of two communities,” he says. “So a student can register in Rochester and vote in person, or they can register to vote in their home state or district and vote absentee.”

This fall, Cutillo and other members of the committee will be visible on the River Campus and each will carry a handbook of updated regulations for all 50 states—the regulations that spell out who can register absentee, when the deadlines are, and how to send in an absentee ballot.

“When we go up to a student and we say, ‘Do you want to register to vote?,’ and they say, ‘Sure, but I’m from California, can I register there?’ We’ll say, ‘Absolutely,’ ” Cutillo says. “We’ll look it up, we’ll work with them, we’ll go online.”

Cutillo says a resource students might find helpful is He adds that the committee will be launching an improved website of its own this month.

As it turns out, most states permit absentee residents to request a ballot on relatively short notice—a week or less. But that’s not universal, and the laws are getting more complicated.

“A wave of new voting laws in several states adds to our workload and requires additional effort from student voters,” says Cutillo. “Many of these are first-time voters, and are particularly affected.”

—Karen McCally