Voter turnout in student districts during spring elections
is traditionally embarrassing. Last night’s elections proved no different. Memorial Library saw only 73 voters Tuesday – the equivalent of 4 percent of registered voters in the district. Gordon Commons hosted only 128 voters, or 4.1 percent, and only 81 voters showed up to Memorial Union – only a 5.5 percent turnout.
Since more than 40,000 students are currently enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, these numbers are more than troubling. Sure, they represent only a limited sample of the turnout rates at locations where students are registered to vote. Nevertheless, these are the polling locations where most undergraduates would, in theory, be voting and, as such, these numbers represent students’ attitudes toward local elections.
Students served as catalysts to get voters to the polls during the last two presidential elections, and they were seen as integral parts of Get Out the Vote efforts. While presidential and national elections are, of course, of huge significance for students – and all voters – the impact that local elections can have on students’ lives is enormous. In fact, the manner in which local officials affect the daily activities of the UW population is, in some ways, more important than the contributions national politicians make to the nation’s youngest generation.
Young Madison voters should have been considerably more active in deciding who leads their districts. They also should have demonstrated a more imminent concern about the state’s supreme court elections.
Spring elections also allow Madisonians to elect new or incumbent alders, who represent the districts of the city on Madison’s City Council. While City Council representatives may not have seemed worthy of much consideration when students were still in high school, the Madison council is very much an active body and one that has significant control over the rules and laws that govern activity throughout the campus and surrounding area. For example, by making decisions on street lights, drinking laws, liquor licenses, bus accessibility, construction projects and student tenant rights, Madison leaders truly do have a say in students’ lives.
Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, who emerged victorious Tuesday, has fought time and time again for safer lighting in dark areas of campus, alternative transportation options for students to get home late at night and for the fair treatment of students as tenants. Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, who will also continue to represent his district, adamantly fought for the continuance of the Mifflin Street Block Party at times when city officials wanted to shut it down, because he knew it held a special place in students’ hearts. When a proposal to construct an apartment building on Mifflin surfaced, he worked countless hours with students to ensure the vision they held for Mifflin was considered, eventually leading the students to victory.
These are just bullet points in the pages-long list of accomplishments these local officials have achieved on behalf of the student voice. While political happenings allowed both men to protect their seats without a serious challenge, circumstances will not always be this way. If students fail to get to the polls and exercise their responsibility and right to vote, they could end up with representatives who put students’ needs behind their own desires and political name.
Students must rally around a not-so-exciting spring election if they want to continue to benefit from the efforts of effective representatives for the campus community at the city level. While spring elections typically prove to be unsexy, their importance is tragically undervalued in a society based on transitivity.
Pam Selman ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism and political science.