BY CORIE LYNN
How do you get Americans to vote in elections?
There is a range of factors that determine voter turnout in an election. More voters participate in national elections than local, and older voters are more likely to participate than younger.
“The closer the polling location, the more likely the voter is to act,” Chair of the FHSU Political Science Department Larry Gould said. “Lack of a car, poor weather, and physical disabilities all tend to create inconvenience and real obstacles to the act of voting.”
Now, how do you get college students to vote in elections?
Will Barfield, a senior political science student at FHSU, believes a campus polling location could be the answer.
Barfield is currently participating in an internship with Loud Light, an organization focused on increasing civic engagement in young people across the state of Kansas.
“So I’m working with a lot of other fellows who are each on the different campuses to start campaigns that are focused on their campus and also in their community to put them on campuses or very close by to get better access,” he said.
So far, Barfield’s work has put him in contact with civically-minded campus organizations like Greek Life, College Democrats and Young Republicans.
One of the hurdles to implementing the Fort Hays polling location is a lack of education on voting: how to register, register and even how to simply go vote.
According to Barfield, one of the important reasons to raise this awareness and interest among students lies in the first step of requesting the polling place. He must first talk to the Ellis County Clerk, who oversees all voting activities in the county.
“I haven’t done that yet because I don’t want to go to her without saying, ‘We know students support it, we know administration supports it and we have all these pieces in place so that it’s a really easy experience,’” he said.
Barfield’s hope is to have the polling location ready for the 2022 midterm elections, but acknowledges that the fight for a campus polling location has gone on for 30 years.
However, he sees a campus polling place as a means of overcoming the barrier of inaccessibility for young voters. Educating Fort Hays students on the importance of civic engagement could also help.
“This is a school of education and part of that is educating students on how to mesh into their community and be a part of that,” Barfield said.
According to Gould, campus polling locations are not uncommon, but universities must cooperate with local governments to put them in place.
There has also been a historic lack of engagement, but Gould sees this pattern changing for the millennial and generation Z voters. He says an increase in campus polling locations services their engagement.
“The college youth turnout for the 2020 election nationwide reached 66% 一a new record and a tremendous increase over the 2018 and 2020 elections一14% to be exact,” Gould said.
Despite this growth, including growth that occurs on the Fort Hays campus, Gould said we should not expect a drastic change in the voting numbers immediately. However, decreasing the obstacle of distance could lead to change over the years.
Gould, though, believes we can keep the momentum of the 2020 election enthusiasm going in terms of voting as this engagement could reflect future citizenship and activity in society.
“If correct, we would certainly want to increase the number of young people who vote and begin to change the political culture in a positive way,” he said.
With a polling location at FHSU’s Gross Memorial Coliseum, Gould says there would also be plenty of space for local residents and the potential for college students to help staff the location.
Barfield agrees that the Coliseum would be the ideal location for everyone. The goal for him, though, is still to get college students engaged in what happens in the Hays community.
“But most of us, we live here minimum nine months out of the year, if not all year round, so especially local government super matters to our daily lives,” he said.
To have an engaged student populace would also mean students have the power to enact the change they want to occur within Hays.
“And we have the opportunity to decide who our officials are, you know,” Barfield said, “and actually have people who care to bring us issues that we care about and bring change that we’re passionate about.”
Barfield asks that FHSU students get involved with the campaign by signing the petition. Students seeking further involvement can contact him or the campus’ American Democracy Project.