Editorial: Voter education

A short course that outlines Kansas voter registration requirements should be taught at high schools and colleges throughout the state.

A new effort to make sure young people know everything they need to know to register to vote in Kansas is a great first step that should be embraced and expanded throughout the state.

The League of Women Voters of Kansas and professors at three state universities have put together a short course to train students to register in Kansas. The course, which can be taught in a single day or stretched over a week, will be piloted this fall at Washburn, Emporia State and Fort Hays State universities. League officials say they hope many other universities and high schools across the state will include the course as part of their curriculum next year in preparation for the November 2016 election.

The voter registration information should be required in high schools across the state. Many high school students will turn 18 and be qualified to vote before they graduate. Walking them through the process of satisfying the state’s requirements to present a birth certificate, passport or other proof of citizenship can help them get registered and perhaps start a lifelong voting habit. Teaching the same information at community colleges and public and private universities in the state, will facilitate voting for students from Kansas as well as students who come from other states that probably have less stringent registration requirements. Organizers also hope those who take the course will help get their friends registered.

Development of the course was spurred in part by the large number of young people who are showing up on the Kansas Secretary of State’s list of “in suspense” voter registrations, most of which are being held up because they don’t include proof of citizenship. According to a new policy instituted by the secretary of state, those registrations now will be thrown out if they haven’t been completed within 90 days.

An analysis conducted by a Wichita newspaper found that 40 percent of those on the “in suspense” list were under the age of 30. According to Michael Smith, a political science professor at Emporia State, research also shows that the highest concentration of people with “in suspense” registrations are found in inner-city neighborhoods and college towns and that large numbers live on or near the campuses of Kansas and Kansas State universities.

Leaders with League of Women Voters in Kansas say they still hope the state will move to less restrictive registration policies, but, in the meantime, they will continue their mission to register voters under the existing state law. The new voter education course is a great effort that deserves support and participation from high schools and colleges across the state.