Editorial: Baylor, be careful when changing voter drive rules

By Asher Freeman

Voting is a right that, as Americans, we are fortunately blessed with.

It stands to reason, therefore, that everyone should have equal opportunity to register to vote, right? Wrong. The Baylor Democrats, and other student political organizations, have been out on the front lines every election year trying to register people to vote, and they have met with success.

While attempting to hold their annual week long voter registration drive, they were shut down Thursday by Baylor Student Activities, which stated that the partisan organization registering voters was not “consistent with university policy.” The voter registration drives have been put on hold until further notice. So far this year, other groups on campus have not been out in full force to encourage students to register and making it easy and convenient to do so. The Baylor Young Conservatives haven’t even been approved to hold a voter registration drive.

By shutting down student voter registration drives with little to no explanation, Baylor has come dangerously close to appearing to suppress voter registration.

It’s important to note that Baylor hasn’t suppressed voters in any way.

In fact there is a registration drive sponsored by student activities planned for the near future. Moreover, Baylor would have nothing to gain as an organization by preventing students from registering. But in a contentious election year — and in a political climate that includes widespread debate about voter identification, suppression and fraud — organizations like Baylor need to be overly careful so as to be above any suspicion. The suddenness and initial confusion about the voter registration drive policy did not represent that level of care.

The reasons given by Matt Burchett, director of Student Activities, for the change in policy were reported in Friday’s Lariat and included restrictions on partisanship due to Baylor’s nonprofit standing, and wanting to consolidate the various voter registration drives.

“This is not a restriction. We just want to make sure we’re doing this the right way,” Burchett told The Lariat.

Consolidating voter registration drives is a good idea, and one that the Lariat could support. However, it is an idea that should have been planned earlier and not sprung on our political organizations at the last minute.

In their statements, the Baylor Democrats have made it clear that their intention is not to encourage people to vote for their party or against another. Their goal is to simply get college students to take the first step on the path to voicing their opinion. When people register to vote, they are not declaring a party affiliation whatsoever.

Understandably, it might be difficult for a Republican student to walk up to a table sponsored by the Baylor Democrats and register to vote, but shutting them down at this stage might hurt student registration even more.

Because the party voter registration drives have been shut down, it has increased the likelihood that the students who may have registered simply because they noticed the table and registration was so convenient, may not register at all now.

Since it’s increasingly difficult to get students in our generation involved in politics, the fact that independent student organizations were out there working so hard to make sure that as many students as possible had these opportunities available to them is a commendable thing.

It’s understandable that Baylor probably didn’t want people swayed a certain way when they registered to vote, but the policies on partisan group voter registration need to be clarified.

Being that the partisan groups have always been allowed to register voters, why are they being shut down now? What about Baylor’s nonprofit status prevents students from registering voters? Have the policies changed or are we just now enforcing them? Are the groups all of the sudden doing something wrong?

Unifying the voter registration push on campus is a good idea, but it needs to be all-inclusive. Cutting the most politically active students out of the process is not the way to ensure fairness and balance. The plans now will do that, but if may already be too late and the bridges may already be too burnt to rescue this year’s registration season.

Next year, lets try to have a little better planning.