The League of Women Voters and professors at three Kansas public universities have teamed up to craft a course that will train college students on how to register to vote.
The league unveiled the plan Saturday at a conference. The effort is a response to changes in Kansas voter registration laws. A disproportionate number of younger people have landed on a list of those whose registrations are suspended because they are incomplete.
Kansas law now requires proof of citizenship for a person to register to vote.
Marge Ahrens, co-president of the league’s Kansas chapter, said the process has become more complex and many young people do not know how to navigate it.
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The course, which will be piloted at Washburn, Emporia State and Fort Hays State universities this fall, will teach students how to register themselves and others.
“They can register their friends,” Ahrens said. “If they wish, they can tackle one or two (names) on the suspense list.”
The Eagle reported in September that more than 40 percent of the nearly 37,000 people on the suspended voter list were under 30.
The list has gained national attention in recent weeks as the secretary of state’s office moved forward with a new rule that removes a person’s name if he or she fails to provide proof of citizenship, such as a passport or birth certificate, within 90 days.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach has said the proof of citizenship requirement is necessary to prevent voting by noncitizens. He has called 90 days a reasonable deadline, noting that Arizona and Georgia have shorter timelines for their proof of citizenship requirement.
Michael Smith, a political science professor at Emporia State University, told the league on Saturday that research shows that the highest concentrations of suspended voters are in inner-city neighborhoods and college towns, with large numbers of suspended voters living on or near the campuses of the University of Kansas and Kansas State University.
The league hopes that colleges and high schools around the state will adopt the course next year ahead of the 2016 election.
Mark Petersen, a political scientist who developed the course with his colleague Chris Hamilton at Washburn University, said it can be taught in a single day or stretched out over a week.
“The idea is to fit it into the regular curriculum” of a history or political science class, Petersen said.
“This is specifically aimed at understanding Kansas law and how to go about getting properly registered to vote in the state of Kansas,” Petersen said.
Petersen said most college students don’t arrive on campus with a copy of their birth certificate or passport, which impedes their ability to get registered. One of the things he highlights in the course is that students born in Kansas can get a copy of their birth records from the state’s bureau of vital statistics.
“But most people don’t know that and they don’t get told that,” he said.