Orono residents, including many UMaine students, wait to register to vote at the University of Maine New Balance Student Recreation Center in Orono on Nov. 8, 2016. Credit: Ashley L. Conti / BDN

Since 2012, Americans have participated in National Voter Registration Day, a civic holiday that has driven grassroots efforts to register more than 3 million people since its inception. This year, however, preparations have been unlike any other.

With COVID-19 and the displacement and hardship faced by so many this election year, ensuring that our fellow citizens get registered and turn out is everyone’s responsibility.

At the University of Maine, planning efforts to register students typically begin the spring semester before an election. Students move around frequently, requiring many to update their voter registration every election. They may be unsure where they are registered, or have questions about their eligibility and whether they ought to vote locally or via absentee ballot elsewhere. It pays to start planning early.

But when college campuses started closing in March due to COVID-19, we knew that voting would be entirely different in the fall.

In a typical year, getting students registered has been the easy part. Pass around the familiar green card and ask them to hand it back with the proper information on it. Ask them to take the five- to 10-minute walk down to vote, put a sticker on their jacket and share in the experience with their friends. Nearly any issues could be solved in person. However, with the growing need for socially distanced events and reliance on digital tools, voter engagement and education has had to be creative in order to reach as many students as possible.

Students may plan to vote in Orono this fall, but with the uncertainty around health disruptions due to COVID-19, voting may be more complicated than in previous years. We have to be prepared for anything to change on a dime, and with increased workloads and more challenging academic deadlines, many students wonder how voting will fit into their schedules with all of the changes being made. For many this year, voting will likely involve dropping an envelope in a mailbox or ballot drop box rather than turning up to the polls on Election Day.

Parallel challenges are faced by low-income individuals or those whose lives have been disrupted by the present state of our economy. A recent Scholars Strategy Network report laid these out in detail. Transportation challenges or long working hours may make it difficult for some to get to the polls on Election Day. Those who are not in stable housing or who have recently moved may be unsure where to vote or how to register. And for those facing a range of challenges in other areas of their life, even thinking about registration and voting may just seem overwhelming.

But many just never get asked. A recent Pew study found that more than 60 percent of Americans have simply never been asked to register to vote. Absent someone actively inquiring, many don’t bother to register and, as a result, their voices remain shut out of our political system.

This year, these are challenges we can all work to fix. Talk to people you know about voting. Ask them if they are registered. Ask them if they have a plan to vote. Assist them in finding resources to help them get registered and the information necessary to make an informed decision. And make sure they understand the options available to them for voting here in Maine (absentee, voting early, or in-person).

In an unprecedented moment like this, ensuring that our democracy represents as many voices as possible is a shared responsibility. It is one in which we all have a role to play.

Robert W. Glover is an associate professor of political science and honors at the University of Maine. Kyleen Nixon is a senior at the University of Maine, pursuing a botany major and serving as a UMaine UVote Student Voting Ambassador. These are their views and do not express those of the University of Maine System or the University of Maine. Glover is co-leader of the Maine Chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear in the BDN every other week.