Opinion: Thoughts on Voter Registration

John Hess is a senior political science major. Contact him at jhess14@kent.edu.

John Hess is a senior political science major. Contact him at [email protected].

John Hess

I’ll never forget the fall of 2014. I was interning on several campaigns, doing voter outreach and making plenty of new friends. However, this past election won’t be remembered for our work, or even the issues at hand. It will be remembered as the lowest turnout midterm in modern history, with some 40 percent of registered voters actually casting a ballot.

There are a lot of reasons for low voter turnout, not least of which being Democratic candidate Ed FitzGerald’s gaffe-a-minute antics, somehow reminiscent of George “Dubya” without any of the charm or cash. Unfortunately, FitzGerald wasn’t the only loser. Down-ticket candidates, third party outsiders and local ballot initiatives also floundered. 

Voting certainly isn’t the answer to every problem, but it’s a tool that shouldn’t be neglected. There are many ways that we could make our democracy healthier, but one way is to simply help more people vote.           

It may surprise many Americans that our voter registration system is one of the worst in the world. We’re one of a tiny minority of democracies that don’t ensure universal voter registration. In many other countries, it’s the government’s responsibility to register citizens to vote. Our system is much more complicated, with government agencies making forms available, while a combination of partisan and nonpartisan civic organizations do most of the leg-work. 

Take Kent for example. Voter registration on campus is left entirely up to student organizations like the College Democrats, College Republicans and Ohio Student Association. USG had a program in place until recently, but that’s been defunded. These attempts at registration, helpful as they are, can only do so much. I believe that the U.S. should adopt universal voter registration, but that’s not likely to start here. What we can do is make sure that as many students are registered to vote as possible. 

These are just the broad contours of an idea presented in the hopes that we all might start thinking about solutions to this problem. 

One option is to provide voter registration forms to every incoming freshman along with their Welcome Weekend materials. Following a brief training, RAs would oversee the completion of these forms in a ten-minute workshop and accept late forms under their doors. They would then bring them to Residence Services. Once every two weeks these forms would be taken to the Board of Elections. This would be a low-cost way to register thousands of students every year. If begun next fall, we could have two years to build up the program before the 2016 elections. 

Additionally, various university departments could make registration forms available to students in the same way that current federal law makes forms available to those renewing their driver’s licenses or seeking public assistance. 

These are just a few ideas that might improve voter turnout. With input from other students and cooperation from the university this kind of program could be adopted, perfected and exported to other universities across Ohio and across the country. As KSU struggles to find its new “story” and students struggle to find ways to meaningfully engage with and change the world around them, programs like this could really make a difference. 

If you have any thoughts, feel free to stop me on campus and share. I’d be glad to talk. 


Contact John Hess at [email protected].