The preliminary voter registration numbers for Douglas County announced last week are disappointing.
Despite the fact that the nation faces a pivotal presidential election along with many important state and local races, the county’s voter registration now is about 7 percent below the number in 2008, the last presidential election year. As of last week, the county had 78,402 registered voters, compared with 84,440 in 2008. County Clerk Jamie Shew said additional registrations that are mailed in or forwarded from the Kansas Department of Motor Vehicles this week will cause that number to rise by maybe 1,000, but it still will be well below four years ago.
The only explanation Shew offered for the decline was that his office had received fewer registrations from college campuses than in 2008. Perhaps college-age students are less inspired by this election than the one four years ago. There also is a chance that both students and other potential voters were confused or discouraged by the new Kansas law that requires voters to show government-issued photo identification at the polls. Kansas University IDs are issued by a government entity and can be used at the polls. Student IDs issued by a private school, like Baker University are valid but those issued to Baker faculty and staff are not. The decline in students registered in Douglas County may become even more pronounced after Jan. 1, when a new state law will require people registering in Kansas for the first time to show proof of U.S. citizenship.
The county’s voter registration has declined despite the fact that its population actually grew by about a 1.2 percent in the last census. The decline appears to be a nonpartisan affair. Democratic registration in the county dropped by about 7 percent while Republican registration dropped by about 8 percent. Registration of unaffiliated voters fell by about 3.4 percent.
Some Democrats may be discouraged from voting by the prospect that their vote in the presidential election might not matter in a state that’s almost certain to support the Republican candidate. That’s a weak excuse, especially when this year’s redistricting has produced so many competitive congressional and legislative races. Local voters also will decide an important Douglas County Commission race.
Douglas County has a less-than-stellar record for voter turnout. Only about 13 percent of registered voters showed up for last August’s primary election. It would be a sad commentary if the only way the county can boost its turnout figure is by lowering its overall registration.