With a pandemic adding risk to in-person voting, funding issues within the United States Postal Service (USPS) making it difficult to vote via absentee ballot and state regulations that require Kenyon students to re-register to vote every year, student voters will have many concerns this fall. Because not every student is on campus this semester, Kenyon students are facing challenges as they navigate registration and voting for this year’s election.
Professor of Biology Joan Slonczewski discussed the voting barriers that Kenyon students specifically face, such as the requirement that students provide both their mailing address and their on-campus address, the latter of which changes annually for most. “This is especially a problem for Kenyon students who are registering because the street address of a Kenyon student changes every year,” they explained. “So every year students have to re-register to vote.”
In a year already riddled with obstacles to voting, the additional Kenyon-specific roadblocks have been a source of stress for Kenyon students. The specific voter registration law comes from Ohio Secretary of State Frank La Rose, and is implemented by the Knox County Board of Elections. Gambier Mayor Leeman Kessler ’04 acknowledged these barriers but noted that they were beyond his jurisdiction. “[I would very much love for voting in this town to be as simple as possible, but it’s not the kind of thing [for which] I can create an executive order.”
In addition to Kenyon-specific impediments, COVID-19 and the USPS backups, there are other long-standing hindrances to voting in America that are being discussed more frequently in this election. “Voter suppression isn’t new,” President of Every Vote Counts Katelyn Schwartz ’21 elaborated. “I think we’ve had the time throughout the pandemic and throughout all these social justice movements to really digest that and understand the root of those issues.”
Alongside all of these impediments to voting, the validity and certainty of the election’s results are also something to consider. President of Kenyon College Democrats Harry Clennon ’21 also warned of the possible threats to democracy even after the votes are in. “I think there’s a lot of room for President [Donald] Trump to obfuscate the results. Because of mail-in voting, the counting is probably going to be slower,” he said.
As the U.S. enters an election season fraught with, among other things, a pandemic, issues with the USPS and voter suppression, Slonczewski advises those planning to vote to be proactive.
“Register to vote now. Call the Board of Elections to make sure it goes through. If you are remote and you are voting absentee, get your absentee ballot now and call the Board of Elections to track your ballot,” they said. “Whatever you do, do it early, and check it out to make sure it went through correctly.”