On Tuesday, the Center for the Study of American Democracy (CSAD) hosted a panel discussion entitled “College Students’ Voting Rights, or Why You Get to Vote and How You Do It in Ohio.” The panel focused on voter participation among college-aged citizens and was part of a broader effort by CSAD to encourage student turnout and voter registration for the upcoming midterm elections in November.
Founded in 2007, CSAD aims to keep Kenyon students politically informed and engaged in civil, nonpartisan discourse by hosting frequent panel discussions and guest speakers. Tuesday’s panel was held in Gund Gallery’s Community Foundation Theater and led by Professor of Political Science and Director of CSAD Joseph Klesner, Associate Professor of Political Science H. Abbie Erler, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and former Mayor of Gambier Kirk Emmert and CSAD Senior Student Associate Nicole Predina ’23.
Klesner, who has served as the director of CSAD since July, began by noting that historically, voter turnout is lowest among citizens 18-24 years of age, consistently remaining well below the national average. But he also emphasized Kenyon’s comparatively high student voting rate of 86.6 percent in the 2020 election, which placed it above the national student voting rate of 66 percent.
Klesner encouraged students to take advantage of their right to participate in the democratic process. “One of the real principal goals that we have here today, besides making sure you know how to vote, is to make you proud of numbers like that and want to do your part to keep it there,” said Klesner.
Erler went on to discuss the 26th Amendment, which in 1971 lowered the voting age from 21 years old to 18. She noted that, despite enfranchising an entire group of people, the amendment is largely viewed by constitutional scholars as relatively unimportant in its impact on national politics.
“If we look at voting rates for young people, this is where we get the contention that expanding the suffrage to 18-year-olds didn’t really make much of a difference. The first election after the ratification of the 26th Amendment sees a higher number of young people voting… and it’s all been downhill after that,” said Erler.
That’s not to say that Kenyon students haven’t gone the extra mile in exercising their right to vote. Emmert discussed the 2004 presidential election, when Gambier made national news. Due to a shortage of voting machines and a false rumor that the available paper ballots were provided by Republicans and would not be counted, Kenyon students stood in line to vote until 4:00 a.m.
Emmert emphasized, however, that voter participation has little value without informed opinions to support it. “Citizen virtue is a crucial requirement of the maintenance of a liberal democracy. And citizen virtue, among other things, involves thinking about the issues, not just voting,” he said.
Predina closed out the panel by going over the process and technicalities of registering to vote in Ohio as a college student, and students had the opportunity to fill out voter registration forms.
“In a time of national debate over voting security and voter accessibility, CSAD has really made an effort to make the voting process for Kenyon students as accessible as possible,” Predina said.
Students can register to vote in their home state here. All Ohio residents must register no later than Oct. 11. More information can be found at kenyon.edu/votes.