Poli-Sci conference benefits students and policy makers

Amadeus Smith

This year’s biannual political science symposium not only gave students a chance to witness government in action, it allowed political minds from across the country to set the political stage for Ohio’s next term.

At “2008 and Beyond: The Future of Election and Ethics Reform in the United States,” political academics and practitioners presented an array of ideas to decrease corruption and increase voter participation.

Vernon Sykes, assistant professor of political science, said yesterday’s event was “well attended and well received,” with around 150 attendees — including 20 Kent State students.

In terms of student benefits, Sykes said the event gave students a first-hand look at government operations.

Graduate assistant Jera Oliver, who participated in Kent State’s Columbus Program in Intergovernmental Issues in 2005, said the symposium helped prepare students for the program.

But student involvement was only part of the conference. Sykes said the event was a way to educate new Ohio policy makers, like Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, on ways to improve ethical practices in Ohio government.

“Because of the dynamics of the audience, we not only asked questions — we could make suggestions,” he said. “And, because you have a change in administration and a change in party, they will be more open to ideas.”

One issue that carried some weight was the need to train poll workers. Panelists agreed that poll workers largely influence voter participation.

“Poll workers are like police officers — they determine if you get a ballot, what kind of ballot you get, they require identification,” he explained.

In order to increase the number of voters, Sykes said poll workers must know the voting guidelines and be able to explain the electronic voting systems. Workers also need to be courteous and “user friendly.”

Sykes said Brunner agreed that the workers needed more training and has already contacted officials to make changes.

Panelists also addressed decreasing corruption throughout Ohio government.

Sykes explained that election agencies are usually unable to perform full investigations of possible corruption. Policy makers need to present new initiatives as well as increase the staff and budget of each agency.

Despite a probable increase in taxes, Sykes said, any related initiative will be accepted by the public.

“In approximately 100 years, only one initiative that was to better ethical practices had been turned down,” he said.

Ohio Attorney General Mark Dann created an integrity council to deal with the corruption issue.

With the success in Columbus, Sykes said he is open to holding the conference out of Kent State more often.

“It opens the door to explore opportunities, engage the public and participate in scholarly academic debate,” he said.

Contact student politics reporter Amadeus Smith at [email protected].