WKU hears about importance of voting from acclaimed speakers

Secretary of State of Kentucky Alison Lundergan Grimes speaks about the state’s new online voter registration system in DSU on Thursday, April 7, 2016. Abby Potter/HERALD

On Thursday night, WKU students heard about the importance of voting from two nationally acclaimed speakers at two events focused on accessibility in voting.

Political journalist and author Ari Berman was in the Mass Media Auditorium to speak about his latest book, which discusses voter rights in the United States.

Berman was invited to speak by the Fleischaker-Greene course Power, Privilege, and Democracy co-taught by professors Amanda Crawford and Saundra Ardrey. In his book “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America,” Berman looks at the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the events following the passing of the act.

“I thought it was really important to write this book because there had been so many written about the events that led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act,” Berman said in his talk, “but there had been far less written about what happened after 1965, and I felt like it was really important to tell the story.”

Berman said although the act was passed in 1965, citizens are still seeing restrictions placed on voters in 2015.

“A bunch of different states are restricting voting rights currently,” Berman said in an interview, “states like North Carolina and Wisconsin and Texas and right here in Kentucky.”

Berman referenced the executive order signed by former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear in November 2015 that Kentucky’s current governor, Matt Bevin, overturned in December 2015. The executive order would have restored 140,000 nonviolent ex-felons’ rights to votes.

Ardrey, political science department head and co-instructor of the Fleischaker-Greene course, said she hoped Berman’s lecture helped her students realize voting restrictions are still a current issue.

“For a lot of students, this is an issue that has been settled,” Ardrey said. “I hope that Ari gave a contemporary voice to this issue.”

At the end of his lecture, Berman offered  suggestions to eliminate voter restrictions. He said states need to offer online voter registration, early voting, same day voter registration and automatic voter registration.

Secretary of State Alison Grimes visited WKU on the same night while touring the state to introduce Kentucky’s new voter registration website.

Rep. Wilson Stone, who introduced Grimes during the presentation, said he hopes the website will increase the number of registered voters in Kentucky.

“We want a democracy where everybody has the opportunity to vote [and] everybody’s willing to get out there to vote,” Wilson said.

Currently one-third of voter-eligible Kentuckians are not registered to vote. Of the two-thirds who are registered, only 30 percent turned out for the last election.

The measure was approved three weeks ago by the state legislature.

“This system is something that is Kentucky proud, Kentucky made in-house with our talent at the secretary of state and state board of elections office,” Grimes said.

Grimes called the state’s voting situation “dire,” particularly because of the low rates of minorities and youth who are registered voters.

The website, which is more efficient than the current method, will also improve the accuracy of voter registration by eliminating the possibility of human error.

Since the launch, Grimes said 15,000 Kentuckians have used the website to register or update their voter registration. Of those 15,000, about 800 are newly registered voters who will be 18 by the November presidential election. State law permits minors who will be 18 by the November election to vote in the primaries.

The only difference in online registration is the requirement of a social security number. Social security are used a safe guard to prevent fraud.

Emily Houston, Winchester freshman, said she had not registered before Thursday night because the process was stressful and inconvenient.

“I had actually started the process last semester, and having to mail in all of that got in the way of me doing it, and I’ve been meaning to do it for a while now, and this took two minutes,” Houston said.

Houston said she thinks voting is important especially for youth, and the state needs to improve its voting statistics.

“It’s the easiest way to do it,” Houston said. “Phone, laptop, whatever you have — the option is there, so I think if it takes just a couple minutes of your time, then people will be more willing to do it.”

Stone praised students who came out to watch the presentation.

“You’re going to be the leaders in your generation because you’re interested now, and you need to be having an impact now because you’re shaping the world that you’re going to be in, the world your children will be in, and the world we’re going to end up in,” Stone said.

Anyone who wants to register online can visit GoVoteKy.com.