Every Vote Counts tackles issues of voter apathy, gerrymandering
GAMBIER — Whether it’s supporting and educating fellow students on the need for a national voting holiday on presidential election day — or explaining how gerrymandering can distort election results and harm democracy — a new student organization at Kenyon College is gaining a constituency.
That constituency would be fellow Kenyon students who realize the value of having a group of peers on campus dedicated to voter education on key issues, while stressing the importance of exercising the power of their votes. The students doing the informing belong to the non-partisan Kenyon chapter of Every Vote Counts, a national, college-based organization formed at Yale University just two years ago. At Kenyon, its efforts are led by sophomore Katelyn Schwartz, 19, a political science major.
Kenyon came aboard as an EVC Chapter in the Fall of 2018, joining 22 other campuses nationwide in doing so. One of the first things Schwartz and about 20 other group members did was register 200 Kenyon students to vote. Voting can be tricky for college students because their addresses change just about every year, Schwartz said — so having a current address on file when voting is important.
“We want to encourage people to go out and vote, have their voices heard, and make sure their opinions count,” she offered. “It’s such a fundamental right to our democracy that people vote including young people. In this age of partisan politics, we need more voter encouragement than ever.”
Votes cast are even more meaningful when those voting are informed on the issues, Schwartz said. And that’s where her own background has helped her Every Vote Counts chapter. Schwartz is from the Upper West Side of New York City, not far from EVC national headquarters. Last summer, her New York roots allowed her to meet Campbell Streator of Yale, EVC’s program director who helps manage chapters on a national scale.
“I usually correspond directly with Campbell, and then I inform our members what we talked about,” Schwartz said.
Being non-partisan, Every Vote Counts does not take sides in political races between candidates through endorsements, Schwartz said. But it does advocate for issues that would enhance the overall democratic process to make voting easier — such as advocacy for holidays during nationwide general election days.
“Widespread voter apathy, partisan gerrymandering by both parties, voter suppression laws, a poorly informed electorate, and limited access to registration and voting are disrupting the electoral process, dampening enthusiasm for voting and distorting election results,” states the “about” section of the Every Vote Counts website, https://www.evcnational.org.
There are three key issues that EVC believes lead to voter apathy and thus staying away from the polls. One is voter suppression, which involves state laws, such as strict voter ID requirements, which make it more difficult to vote. Voter suppression laws “are predicated on the phantom threat of voter fraud. Those is no credible evidence to suggest that voter fraud takes place on a large scale,” EVC states.
Another issue is partisan gerrymandering, which Schwartz said is a major problem in Ohio but will be addressed when new congressional districts are formed in 2021. Partisan gerrymandering occurs when politicians meet behind closed doors to draw congressional maps in favor of one party over the other. Those maps are locked in for 10 years to coincide with Census population numbers. It can often result in minority rule and maps with distorted shapes to ensure political advantage. In Ohio, 12 of the 16 congressional districts are held by Republicans.
The third key issue for EVC involves registration and voting access, such as long lines at polling places that make it harder to wait to vote. Ohio, for example, cut an entire week from early voting, the EVC website noted. “The lack of standardized structures, laws, and regulations across state-controlled voting systems — as well as antiquated voting machines and technology, lack of staff at polling places, and limitations imposed by voter suppression laws — have made registering and voting onerous tasks for many.”
Schwartz, who will spend next fall semester abroad to study Culture & Society abroad in Austria, will be a senior when the presidential election of 2020 happens. In the meantime, she and her EVC peers at Kenyon will seek to register more student voters and help educate them on other issues that are in play nationally, and in other states — like ranked-choice voting. This type of voting allows each voter to rank candidates for an office from their top choice to their lowest choice. Doing so gives them more of a say about an election and all of its candidates, instead of just choosing between two candidates.
“We will also study local elections, including voting by registered voters in each party, and disparities in voting such as primary versus general election turnout,” she said.