Voter registration efforts ramp up at KU as Oct. 13 deadline nears; Lied Center to serve as voting site
Just over three weeks before the general election, efforts to register as many voters as possible in Douglas County have been ongoing leading up to Kansas’ voter registration deadline Tuesday — specifically among a group that while eligible to do so, traditionally doesn’t vote at a high rate: college students.
The University of Kansas adds thousands of eligible voters to the county’s voting population each election, but one barrier significantly limits the number who actually cast ballots: what Douglas County clerk Jamie Shew calls the “secret handshake of voting.”
In a video message with KU Chancellor Douglas Girod and KU student Logan Stenseng last week, Shew said the concept referred to the confusion students face both with how to register to vote and how to cast their ballot once registered.
“The largest barrier for 18- to 24-year-olds participating is registration, across the country,” Shew said. “Students can keep their registration at home or register in Lawrence … (They) have a choice that’s up to them, but once you make that choice, make a plan on how you’re going to vote and implement that plan.”
In the 2016 presidential election, for example, only 51% of eligible KU students cast a ballot, the university said in a news release Friday announcing “civic engagement office hours” led by a conglomerate of KU organizations.
Voter turnout in Douglas County as a whole was 63% in the 2016 election, according to the county clerk’s website.
Stenseng, who serves as the president of KU Young Democrats and the Student Senate Government Relations Director, said in the message that voter registration efforts this year have been made more difficult because of the COVID-19 pandemic — especially with normally simple events such as “tabling,” which are meant to raise awareness about the election.
But at the same time, the importance of civic engagement has come to the forefront around the 2020 election. Stenseng said KU has a special responsibility to be a leader in these efforts for its student body and to try to educate as much of the campus as possible on casting a ballot.
“As an institute of higher education, I really do believe that providing information to voters to help them participate in elections can be really important and vital,” he said. “There are ways in which we can incorporate civic education and promote this election and promote civic participation in general.”
While it doesn’t incorporate the entirety of KU’s voting population by any means, Douglas County’s 10th Precinct, limited to Daisy Hill, is where many KU undergraduate students live in their initial years on campus, and is essentially the only precinct in Douglas County that includes only KU students, Shew said in the video message.
Here’s how the precinct has changed recently:
• In the Aug. 4 primary this year, there were 418 registered voters, 19 of whom voted (4.6%). This is an outlier, though, as most students were away from campus during the election, and even more people than normal were away from Lawrence because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
• As of Friday afternoon, the 10th Precinct had 726 registered voters, a 73.7% increase just since the August primary, according to Douglas County’s data, which updates each weekday.
• In the 2018 midterms, 321 voters cast ballots out of 912 who had registered, a 35.2% turnout, according to certified election results.
• In the 2016 presidential election, 252 voters cast ballots out of 947 people registered, a 26.6% turnout, according to certified election results.
Across Douglas County, voter registration has substantively increased since the August primary. In that election there were 78,838 registered voters, and as of Friday afternoon that had risen to 80,719 — an increase of 2.4%, or 1,881 voters.
Important dates, deadlines and resources
Oct. 13: Deadline to register to vote in Kansas
Oct. 27: Kansas deadline to request an advance mail ballot (by law, you can make this request for any reason)
Nov. 3: Election Day 2020
Where do I register to vote or check my voter registration status?
Voters who are registered in Kansas can check their status and view their polling location at www.ksvotes.org.
Voters who are registered in Douglas County can also check their status and view their polling location at www.douglascountyelections.com.
KU students registered to vote outside of Kansas can check their status or register to vote at www.rockthevote.org.
All three sites can also process voting registration requests.
For students, Stenseng also said during the video chat with Girod and Shew that every time someone logs onto Blackboard, KU’s online learning management system, a link appears showing where to register to vote and how to check your registration status and polling location.
Where do I vote if I don’t want to vote by mail?
For KU students and the Douglas County community at large, there will be an advance voting site at the Lied Center, 1600 Stewart Drive, where anyone registered to vote in the county can cast a ballot in person while remaining socially distanced.
The entire Douglas County advance voting schedule for the 2020 election can be viewed here.
The Lied Center site will also be open on Election Day, Nov. 3, but only to those registered to vote in Precinct 10, which is limited almost entirely to KU students who live in on-campus housing.
What to know about voting by mail
Mail ballots will be distributed across Kansas beginning on Oct. 14, the first day legally allowed by state law. And as mentioned, registered voters have until Oct. 27 to request a mail ballot for any reason — though Shew encouraged anyone who hasn’t requested an advance ballot to do so as soon as possible.
If you apply for an advance mail ballot but don’t want to return it in the mail due to fears it won’t be returned to the county election office in time to be counted, it can be dropped off at any of the county’s 10 secure ballot box locations:
• Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St.
• Lawrence Douglas County Fairgrounds, 2120 Harper St.
• Lawrence Douglas County Human Services Building, 2518 Ridge Court
• Lawrence South Iowa Satellite Office, 2329 Iowa St. (behind Texas Roadhouse)
• Lawrence Treasurer’s South Satellite Office, 2000 W. 31st St., Suite B
• Lawrence Golf Course Superintendents Headquarters, 1421 Research Park Drive
• Theatre Lawrence, 4660 Bauer Farm Drive
• Baldwin City City Hall, 803 Eighth St., Baldwin City
• Eudora City Hall, 4 E. Seventh St., Eudora
• Lecompton City Hall, 327 Elmore St., Lecompton
Advance mail ballots can also be dropped off at any advance voting location or Election Day polling site where voting is ongoing.
This option, Shew reminded voters, does not apply to those casting in-person ballots on Nov. 3. That has to be done at a voter’s specified polling location.
Importance of voting
Stenseng in last week’s video message encouraged KU students in particular to register to vote and finalize their plan to cast a ballot as soon as possible.
“I think it’s really important to get folks doing everything as soon as possible,” he said. “That registration deadline is the single greatest exclusionary act that happens to students.”
Shew added that beyond deadlines, students also have the ability through voting to affect down-ballot races that in reality could affect their day-to-day lives a lot more than something like the presidential election.
Stenseng echoed those thoughts and said that motivating the KU student body to vote, no matter whom they cast a ballot for, can be a unifying effort in a climate so fractured by political ideology.
“In times like these, when we live in such divisive, politically polarizing and uncertain times, we can all come together around that idea that voting is integral to our democracy and we should try to empower as many people as possible (to participate)” he said. “(Students) become lifelong democratic citizens, but it’s all on us. It’s all on everybody at KU.”
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