College Democrats register more than 60 new voters

Student pass the College Democrats booth on the Esplande outside Bowman Hall on Tuesday Sept. 22, 2015.

Sarah Matthews

State Rep. Kathleen Clyde challenged College Democrat organizations across Ohio to each register at least 50 voters as part of National Voter Registration Day, which took place Tuesday.

“Kent State stepped up to the challenge,” Clyde said. “They were the first to agree.”

The Kent State College Democrats stood on the Esplanade in front of Bowman Hall from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. with signs urging students to register to vote. Clyde appeared alongside the College Democrats helping students fill out voter registration forms.

The College Democrats surpassed Clyde’s original goal and registered more than 60 students to vote. She said many young people aren’t already registered to vote because it’s not easily accessible.

“Students have the constitutional right to register to vote in their campus community from their dorm room or wherever they live on campus,” she said. “It’s something they maybe haven’t ever done before, so when you’re new to something it doesn’t always come naturally or easily, so we’re here to try to break down those barriers and get people registered.”

Clyde, who serves the 75th District of Ohio, introduced House Bill 337 to create “Ohio Voter Registration Day” on the fourth Tuesday of every September. 

According to a press release from Clyde, over one million Ohioans are eligible to be registered voters, but are not registered.

President of the College Democrats and freshman public relations major Hana Barkowitz said it surprised her that registering to vote isn’t on the forefront of everyone’s minds.

“I remember working on my first campaign in 2012 and doing voter registration,” Barkowitz said. “It was really shocking to me to see how many people wouldn’t take two seconds to fill out a form.”

Barkowitz said in some countries outside of the United States, not all citizens have the ability to vote.

“I like to remind people that it’s a privilege and not a right, and that people in Syria use live ammunition all the time for their right to vote,” she said. “Here we have this thing that’s handed to us and people don’t want to take advantage of it.”

The Kent State Undergraduate Student Government is working with politically- active student organizations, such as the College Democrats, to register 5,000 students on campus to vote by 2017.

Leading the initiative is USG Senator at large Matthew Chernesky, who is also the president of the Political Science club and vice president of the College Democrats.

Chernesky said registering students to vote is only half the battle because it doesn’t guarantee they will show up to the polls.

In the 2014 midterm election, voter turnout was the worst in 72 years with only 36.4 percent of eligible voters turning out to vote. Typically, voter turnout among young people is even worse. In exit polls from the midterm election, only 13 percent of voters younger than 30 showed up at the polls.

“It’s important to get young people registered to vote because we don’t really get involved in mid-term elections, but we do get involved in presidential elections, and there’s a huge disparity between the two,” Chernesky said. “I think that’s because presidential elections are more appealing and more attractive than midterm elections because you have the president at the top of the ballot.”

Despite his personal beliefs, Chernesky said his goal is a non-partisan one.

“I don’t care who you vote for as long as you vote,” the junior political science major said. “That’s my big election philosophy is that you can vote as a Republican, a Democrat, a Libertarian or a Green. It doesn’t really matter as long as you get out to the ballot booth and you exercise one of your most important civic responsibilities.”

Clyde said she is thankful for the work the College Democrats are doing to get young people registered to vote, but they need to keep up the momentum.

“We need to keep that going through November 3 of 2015 because that’s our closest election day,” she said.

Contact Sarah Matthews at [email protected].