On the night of Sunday, Feb. 16, it came to my attention that the Center for Study of American Democracy (CSAD), which was in charge of campus voter registration this year, had not made any announcements regarding the Feb. 18 voter registration deadline for the Mar. 17 Ohio Primary Election. As a student passionate about voting rights, who has registered many students to vote in previous years, I am angry and disappointed with CSAD.
Earlier this year, CSAD asked that student organizations such as Kenyon Democrats discontinue their practice of registering voters; given that these organizations are partisan, they were concerned that this could deter students with conflicting political beliefs from registering. Instead of tabling, CSAD installed registration booths in Peirce, Gund Gallery and the Bookstore. As of Feb. 14, it was unclear if those booths had been emptied; by some accounts, students had placed their forms in these boxes months before and still had not received any confirmation that their forms had been processed, raising questions as to whether their forms had been turned in at all. The Ohio Secretary of State requires that forms be turned in within 10 days of being signed and dated—therefore, some of those forms could have become invalid. I reached out to CSAD that Friday and was told that they were working on the situation. After receiving no update by Sunday, I sent my first email to the entire campus regarding voter registration, alerting the community that the voter registration deadline was that Tuesday, Feb. 18.
After the early and unannounced closure of the CSAD voter registration booths on the evening of Monday, Feb. 17, I decided to take matters into my own hands: I offered the entire campus the opportunity to give me their voter registration forms so I could personally take them to the Board of Elections the next day.
By Tuesday night, over 80 students had gone out of their way to find me and give me their forms, just in time to make the registration deadline.
Though we as a campus should be proud of this accomplishment, we cannot ignore the larger issue at hand: Things should not have gotten to this point. The fact that I felt the need to take it upon myself to register our peers to vote speaks to a larger systemic issue. While I believe I did what was right, I also acknowledge that this was a stopgap solution, and ultimately cannot fully compensate for CSAD’s poor management of the situation. In future elections, there may not be a student who feels compelled to take the actions which I took. Going forward, Kenyon must make a stronger effort to ensure that student voter registration is as accessible as possible.
Some may argue that Kenyon students should not vote here, as they are often not from the area and may not have the same interests as local residents. However, we do live here for four years, and the policies and candidates that are voted on directly impact us. For example, Knox County will vote on a new sheriff this election cycle, a change in leadership which could have drastic effects on student life—should we not have a say in that? Kenyon prides itself on being intertwined with the Gambier community. To not encourage students to vote in Gambier is contradictory. But simply reminding students to vote come election day is meaningless if they are not registered to vote in the first place.
So what would this look like? First and foremost, the registration deadline must be publicized earlier and more effectively. Students should not have to rush to ensure that they are registered the day of the deadline. Simply returning to tabling for voter registration would help to remind people that the deadline is approaching; it is much easier to walk by a small booth than it is to walk by a human who is speaking to you, reminding you to register. If there are still concerns regarding the partisan nature of the organizations who run registration, then CSAD can take up the mantle of tabling in Peirce themselves. Additionally, tabling helps to prevent errors, as volunteers can check the forms over before a voter submits it; a booth with a box cannot.
However, this alone would simply return us to the way things were during the 2018 midterm elections, which, though effective, could have been better. If we want to improve accessibility of voter registration on this campus, we need other options. One method that has proven successful is institutionalizing voter registration. Kenyon should provide more structured support for registration services instead of relying on the motivation of individual students or the efforts of student groups. Northwestern University, for example, has included voter registration as part of their orientation, giving students the opportunity to either register on campus or request an absentee ballots for their home state. Though it is true that Kenyon students have to update their voting address each time they move dorms, this kind of programming would ensure that roughly a fourth of the entire student population is registered in a given year, which would be monumental. I urge Kenyon to consider making this an institutionalized process, and I ask the Office of First-Year Experience to include this in future orientation programming.
I am just one of nearly 2,000 student voices here at Kenyon. But if I had the ability to ensure that over 80 students were registered to vote, imagine the results if we as a community made a wholehearted and institutionalized effort to do the same.