Librarian becomes notary to register students to vote
The latest national polls show the 2016 presidential election narrowing significantly, to the point where every last vote might count. But for college students voting by absentee ballot, a complex web of laws and regulations that vary from state to state can often keep their votes from having an impact on Election Day.
Luckily for Brandeisians, the library has hosted a slew of events and is offering services to help students voting by absentee ballot navigate the bureaucracy. Librarian Aimee Slater even became a certified public notary, because some states require absentee ballots to be notarized, and is offering her services for free to students.
“We started talking about this project back in February and had hopefully planned to do it for the primary in Massachusetts, as a little bit of a pilot to get people interested in registering and voting,” Slater said in an interview with the Justice. “I came here from New York, and the primary in Massachusetts is much earlier. So I had the idea the day before voting closed.”
For the general election, though, Slater has been on the front lines at events like the Sept. 15 registration celebration, an all-day affair where students could register in Goldfarb library. Oct. 21 also saw the Absentee Jamboree, and between those two events and walk-ins interested in registering, Slater estimates that about 150 students had registered for the general election through Brandeis services by last Friday.
“It was really just about untangling the process, because each state has a different process, and within some states, different counties have different processes. So we’re talking hundreds of processes,” Slater explained. After the election, the library plans to display a graphic indicating which states Brandeisians voted in. More students come in to register every day, according to Slater.
Her own role as a notary has helped voters in states like Arkansas, Missouri, Delaware and North Carolina, which all require either a notary or two witnesses to authenticate a ballot before it’s mailed in. The notary doesn’t see how the voter actually voted but is present when the voter signs the outside of the ballot to authenticate it. They then provide a notary stamp.
Most notaries charge for their services, but Slater is providing notarization to students for free, even after the election is over. “As it turns out, documentation to study abroad and visas and that sort of thing also require a notary. There are other things students are working with — passport applications, et cetera — that also require a notary.” She said her work is part of a larger push from the library to provide students with more services. “And also, voting is such an act of civic engagement, and we really want to promote that,” she added.
Slater says the library is also being careful to remain nonpartisan throughout their get-out-the-vote efforts. “We’re not telling people how to fill out their ballots, we’re just helping people to fill out their ballots. Mostly what we’re working with is making sure they’ve done what they needed to do. We’re not checking how anyone bubbled in anything,” she said.
She says that her work as a librarian makes it easier to keep her personal desires for the election results out of her professional work registering students and notarizing documents. “My job as an information professional is that I’m giving people information. Whatever they are doing with that information, that is up to them. So I think when it’s become an issue of a personal conflict — when I’ve been like, ‘Ooh, I want to say this thing’ — I always have to just fall back on, ‘My job in this particular instance is to just give information. I’m not assigning it a value, I’m not trying to sway anybody; I just want everyone to have the information they need to make the best decision they can for themselves.’”
Other notaries across campus work in the Office of Human Resources and registrar’s office. The presidential election is on Nov. 8.