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For years, Fort Hays State University students and other Hays voters have been advocating for a polling location on the campus, which would be closer and easier to access for that entire precinct. In addition to supporting students, a polling location at FHSU would be accessible for many elderly and low-income residents on the south side of Hays. Despite repeatedly hearing from the voters she serves about the need for an on-campus polling location, County Clerk Bobbi Dreiling has still unfortunately not committed to opening a polling location and voters who lived on and near the campus must go to another poll -- much farther away, across town.
Two Fort Hays students, Grace McCord and Madison Albers of the American Democracy Project, worked remarkably hard to research and build a case for support for a polling place on campus after finding FHSU students failed had among the lowest level of voter engagement among Kansas universities. The lack of a polling location had a clear impact on students’ voting rates at FHSU. The national average voting rate for college students is 66%. KU students, who have a voting location on campus, vote at a 71% rate. By contrast, FHSU students voted at a significantly lower rate of 62.4%, below the national average and much below other Kansas colleges like KU. Grace and Madison gained the support of the university's administration, the university police department, the College Republicans, Young Democrats, Pi Sigma Alpha, the Student Government, the campus community collaborative, and numerous Hays residents and made multiple building proposals for County Clerk Bobbi Dreiling to address scheduling concerns and to ensure ADA compliance. They are also joined by the majority of Kansans across the political spectrum who support simple administrative fixes to improve access to vote.
Instead, County Clerk Bobbi Dreiling opted for a different location, and she recently claimed a lack of economic feasibility prevents a polling location on FHSU's campus. When providing justification, she pointed to low turnout numbers in the precinct -- numbers that came from the previous, less accessible polling location. At one point, Ms. Dreiling stated, "I firmly believe if anyone, not just students, want to vote they would find a way to vote whether it is in their backyard, or across town." But Ms. Dreiling seems to miss that lower voter engagement is a sign to remove burdens and make voting more accessible, not less -- and that condensing more voters to a single poll is also one of the most effective ways to actually lower voter turnout.
Polling locations on college campuses increase civic engagement for young people and make it easier to vote, and a Fort Hays polling site would be especially accessible to the unique needs of the voters on campus and in the surrounding community. There are many simple but effective ways to ensure voters have access to the ballot of the poll in between working, caring for families, going to class, and other responsibilities. Under Kansas election law, local election officials have the authority to maximize opportunities to protect the right to vote and maximize turnout -- and that’s what we’re asking of Ellis County Clerk Bobbi Dreiling.
Sign on here to be part of supporting the work to help every eligible voter in Hays have access to vote.