Over 54,000 people reside in Manhattan — just under 16,300 of which are Kansas State students. However, those students do not have easy access to vote in local elections. Sawyer Shutts, sophomore in political science, said he believes the lack of a polling place for local elections on campus is part of the issue.
“The mission with getting a polling place on campus is simply to drive college kids to vote more often in smaller elections,” Shutts said. “The idea is to make it more accessible for people to vote because right now college kids aren’t voting.”
Shutts is a member of Loud Light, a bipartisan nonprofit that makes voting more accessible for all Kansans. He said a polling place on campus would inspire students to vote and remind them local elections exist.
“Having one on campus will remind people to vote because if they are at the Union and they see a polling place, it means there is an election,” Shutts said. “Therefore, maybe students will do their research and vote.”
Monica Macfarlane, university support staff senate vice president, said she agrees that the lack of easy access to voting locations might prevent students from participating in local elections.
“Students may not have the easiest way to get to the courthouse on election day in between classes,” Macfarlane said. “So having a location on campus would make it much easier to cast a vote while grabbing coffee or lunch during the day.”
Macfarlane said these polling places would not only help with accessibility but also remind students that no matter where they are from, they can still vote in Manhattan with a Wildcat ID.
“These locations could have signs saying ‘Vote here,’ and also state that with a Kansas Driver’s License or just a Wildcat ID, you are eligible to vote on campus,” Macfarlane said.
She said announcing that K-State students can vote in Manhattan and polling places on campus would help the local government.
“Local governments are highly impacted by participation within the community,” Macfarlane said. “So when ours is a student body this big, it needs to be accessible for that portion of our community.”
Both Shutts and Macfarlane do not think students are aware of how their votes affect the whole community.
“Some bigger things that occur on campus that also affect the entire community as a whole is our non-discrimination policies,” Macfarlane said.
Another issue is rental inspection programs removed by the local government, Macfarlane said.
“There are a lot of concerns right now with safety issues before moving into rental properties,” Macfarlane said. “You can call the city at any time to do a rental inspection. However, I do not think this is appropriate to ask students who are new to the community to do this on their own; it should be provided for their safety.”
The lack of provided rental inspection caught the eye of Kate Kowalik, a freshman in marketing.
“Even as someone who will most likely be renting a house next year, I would not have known to seek out an inspection myself,” Kowalik said. “I would definitely vote for a candidate who advocates for automatic rental inspections.”
Even though Kowalik is interested in getting the rental inspection passed, she is unsure if she will vote in the next election because of her busy schedule as a student-athlete.
“All my classes are scheduled in the morning because I have practice for the cross country and track team in the evening, so I would have no time to leave campus and make a trip to the courthouse,” Kowalik said.
Kowalik said a polling place on campus would make it easier to vote even with her jampacked day.
“If I could vote while grabbing coffee in the union or in between classes, I would definitely do it,” Kowalik said. “I am interested in voting. Right now, I just would not be able to make time for it.”
Shutts said that time and accessibility are the main obstacles preventing students from voting and hopes to get a polling place in the Union for local elections next November.
“Right now, the participation in local elections is so low, and in general, a healthy democracy requires governmental participation from everyone, which is why I am pushing this,” Shutts said. “I want voting to be easier for the student body, to show students how their vote impacts the results.”
Those interested in having a polling place on campus can sign Shutt’s petition on the Loud Light website.