The Student Legislative Action Committee is establishing a subcommittee to increase civic engagement and voter turnout among University of Kansas students for the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
The number of student voters at the University increased from 23.6% in 2014 to 44.9% in 2018, according to the National Study of Learning, Voting Engagement’s campus voting report for the University.
However, Student Senate Student Rights Committee Chair Derek Dunn, the author of legislation to establish the committee, said the increase was a result of student organizations’ work, and now the University and Senate need to play more of a part in continuing to increase the number of students who go to the polls.
“I feel like as a University, KU hasn’t done a whole lot to help promote something I think is vitally important as voter registration and voter turnout,” Dunn said.
Dunn, who is also the committee’s interim chair, said he hopes to meet his goal of increasing voter turnout through three waves of initiatives.
In the the first wave, the committee will work with organizations to promote education on the importance of voting, Dunn said. The committee will then work with the League of Women Voters to put on voter registration training classes in the second wave and then encourage people to get to the polls for the third wave.
Dunn also said he hopes to work with KU Transportation Services to provide transportation for students to different polling locations in Lawrence if there aren’t any on campus.
“In a perfect world, we would get 100% turnout, and everyone would vote in the election, but that’s not realistic and I fully recognize that,” Dunn said. “I think having that as a goal is kind of what I’m aiming for. If I can make sure KU students are educated, registered and voting, I think I’ve done my job.”
Different campus organizations are co-sponsoring the committee, including KU Young Democrats, KU College Republicans, KU Bridge USA, the KU American Civil Liberties Union and KU Students United for Reproductive and Gender Equity.
The voting rate of registered KU students increased by 26.1 percent from 2014 to 2018. The ACLU of KU says this increase is the organization's biggest impact on campus.
The non-partisan committee will be open to all members of the University, with a focus on including graduate students.
KU Young Democrats President Logan Stenseng said he is looking forward to working on facilitating collaboration with student organizations across campus in a non-partisan way.
“It’s important to remember that political and partisan are not interchangeable terms,” Stenseng said. “Increasing political engagement and increasing voter turnout on KU’s campus is the best thing in general for democracy. That often is something that I believe should transcend party lines.”
KU ACLU President Andrew Lee said the committee is important now more than ever, sharing Dunn’s sentiments that the University's administration has not done enough to get students engaged in local, state or federal politics.
He also said he hopes the committee will unite student groups for a broader conversation and encourage different representation in the government.
“I just want to raise registration rates, period,” Lee said. “Registration rates will directly correlate to having a young person in Topeka representing our interests, voting on how much funding our school is getting, what our fees are. Just raising registration rates within Lawrence in and of itself is a goal.”
The committee’s first meeting will be on March 19 at 7 p.m. in the first-floor classroom of Templin Hall.
“College students are paying attention,” Dunn said. “We are important, and our voices matter as well.”