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Local group looks to activate younger voters PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 09 August 2017 11:57

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By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times



In recent years, with the exception of presidential elections, low voter turnout has been a trend across America.

The recent primary to choose which of 13 candidates would have the chance to be chosen as a Liberal city commissioner reflected that trend.

Of the more than 8,500 registered voters in Liberal, just less than 1,400, or 16 percent, cast a ballot in the recent election.

Like many people, Summer Parsons found herself complaining about the lack of turnout at the voting booth, but she has now decided to do something about it, particularly when it comes to getting younger people voting.

Parsons recently began a page on Facebook called “Young Voters of Liberal” with the goal of building up voter participation, especially amongst youth.

“My generation, unfortunately, I don’t know that they see the importance in voting,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s their fault or not, but I just don’t think that the emphasis is there. I’m hopefully going to create some of that emphasis and help them educate themselves on why voting is important and how to go about registering and how to go about doing the process of voting.”

Parsons has talked to two of the younger candidates in the city commission race, Travis Combs and Justin Varnes, both of whom she said have agreed to do segments in an effort to help bulk up young voting numbers.

“We’re going to sit down with them and talk about why it’s important for young voters to vote, how it affects change in the city of Liberal and just emphasize that importance on it and really get to sit down and talk with them and interview them,” she said. “I think that will be an interesting thing for the younger voters because these are the younger candidates who I think a lot of people feel like when you bring new blood in, you bring a little bit of something different, something new and just kind of shake things up with young people as well.”

Though she did not have statistics on the demographic breakdown of Liberal’s voters, Parsons said the local turnout seems to be quite similar to the rest of the U.S.

“Looking across the United States, there is a trend right now, and most cities across the U.S. have only about 15 percent of the registered voters are voting,” she said. “It’s really sad to see that not only are registration numbers low compared to the population size and people who are allowed to register and vote, but then you see that those registered numbers are down and only 15 percent of those people registered are even voting. So you have such a low percentage of people voting.”

Parsons said she would like to see the actual demographic numbers of the people who are allowed to vote in local elections, but any way the numbers are dissected, the extremely low turnout is frustrating for many, including her.

“The statistic of people who are voting out of those registered voters is still just exceptionally low – 1,300 out of 8,000, that’s a sad number,” she said.

Parsons, who is part of the millennial generation, said members of her age group seem to have the attitude that dictates that their vote doesn’t make a difference.

“The unfortunate part is that’s just not true,” she said. “Every vote counts. Every vote makes a difference. It’s just like a penny saved. It may be just a penny, but every one absolutely counts.”

While the obvious goal of her work is to raise the number of votes cast in any given election, Parsons said she would still need to see the demographics of the local registered voter population.

“My end goal is to just bring that number up, those registered voters who are able to vote,” she said. “Bring them out, get them voting. I’d love to put a number on it, but we’re not sure just exactly where this is going to come out.”

Parsons’ effort is in its early stages, and she wants to continue to work with local politicians and candidates as part of that effort.

“We’re going to be working with the people at the DMV with the registration process, going to be talking with them and getting some segments out on how painless the registration process should be, what documentation you need to go do that,” she said.

Parsons said while some younger people think their voice doesn’t matter, not voting will certainly make it matter even less.

“It certainly won’t be heard if you don’t go out and vote and cast your opinions,” she said.

Parsons said the “Young Voters of Liberal” page is just the start of what she wants to do to increase election turnout.

“We’ve considered maybe even going in and speaking with some of the government classes at the high school,” she said. “Civics is not a thing anymore. You used to have that in high school, and now we don’t. I can’t speak to as to why that’s happened, but we will try to definitely get ourselves in there with those students who are getting ready to turn 18 and discuss to them why voting’s important, that it is a duty. It’s a right, but it’s also your duty for you to go in and make your voice heard and cast your vote and definitely say, ‘I have this opinion, and I want to be heard.’”

Parsons said she wants to see voting as not an obligation, but rather a passion.

“I want to see not just a ‘I need to vote,’ but ‘I want to,’ excited attitudes about being able to go out and say ‘This is what I believe in, and I am passionate and have a feeling about it enough to want to cast my vote,’” she said. “I think that would definitely be one of our goals – to make people not just feel obligated to vote, but excited to go vote.”

All of this, Parsons said, makes voters a little more optimistic about the size of their voice.

“I think there has to be an understanding that your voice matters, that your one voice matters in a sea of a thousand,” she said. “It may feel small, but everyone counts. I think we have to help people understand that just because you’re one doesn’t mean you’re nothing. It means that you are something and what you believe in should be put out there.”

To follow the “Young Voters of Liberal,” simply go to the page and ‘like’ it. 

“That basically means you’re following the page,” Parsons said. “Anything we post, any videos that we put out or any segments that we do on any information can be seen, and it will go to their wall once you like the page. If we do any events, that will be posted on the page as well. If we go into the high school and talk with students or if we do anything like that, that will be posted and listed and will likely be videos and things like that.”

Parsons said there are other ways to help in the effort to increase voter turnout.

“Call down to the Copper Pistol and say, ‘Hey Summer, what do we do? How do we get involved?’” she said. “I’m sure some of these local candidates would be more than happy to give them some information on how to get registered and how to be part of that process too.”

Parsons’ Copper Pistol business can be reached at 620-604-5300. She said the work she is doing in Liberal could continue in the surrounding area.

“There’s trends,” she said. “It’s large cities. It’s small cities. It’s across the U.S. If Liberal’s having this issue and we’re very similar to towns around here, they’re having the same issue. My hope would be to first focus on Liberal, not because I don’t care about those towns, but because this is our hometown, but to definitely extend that reach if we have some success and continue working to help our entire area get better numbers.”

Parsons said with the recent primary and upcoming election, there has been much in the way of negativity, and she said continuing that negativity does little to solve problems.

“Complaining doesn’t do anything,” she said. “Making your voice heard does something. If you want to excite change, you have to do it in a positive manner.”

Whether it is voting or any matter, Parsons said a team effort is required to produce solutions.

“If you want to make a change happen and you want to see something different, we have to come together not just as people – as citizens of Liberal – and say ‘If we want change, we can’t just complain about it. We can’t just write an opinion piece and say that’s good enough,’” she said. “You’ve got to go make a change happen.”

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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