Photo by NewsHour on Flickr.
Yesterday, the Georgetown Hoya student newspaper published a provocative editorial calling on students to not vote in DC, and rather vote absentee in their home states. That’s terrible advice.
The reasoning behind the piece was that with DC disenfranchised in Congress and its 3 electoral votes guaranteed for Obama, students would “get more bang from their ballot” by voting in more competitive and consequential elections back home.
The heart of the editorial points to the slim 537 votes by which George W. Bush beat Al Gore in Florida in 2000. It notes that 250 current Georgetowners are from Florida, and concludes that “you never know beforehand if voting will make a difference.”
There’s some undeniable truth to this reasoning, but it’s myopic. The editorial throws a bone to the admirable DC Students Speak effort, but kicks the legs out of that campaign by stating “it’s evident that poor student turnout in DC has been problematic.” In other words, because students don’t vote here, why bother voting here?
Here are some other numbers: Georgetown University has over 7,000 undergrads. GWU has over 10,000. In 2008, Jack Evans beat Cary Silverman for the Democratic nomination to represent Ward 2 on the DC Council, 3,100 votes to 1,700. This year he ran unopposed and only drew 2,900 votes.
If 30% of college students living in Ward 2 would vote for an alternative candidate they would swamp Evans. Or, if they supported Evans, he would have to count them as one of his most important constituencies.
The Hoya’s pages are often filled with angst over the way students are treated by the District government. Don’t they see the connection?
The editorial’s view reflects an unfortunate yet common attitude among DC residents who work in or cover national politics (or, as the case may be, aspire to do so): namely, that local politics is bush league, that it’s something to be concerned about only when there’s a scandal, and that the epic battle between the national parties to control Congress and the White House is all that matters. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Local politics do matter. As David Alpert wrote recently: “If you live in the District, you should vote here. It’s the right thing to do. It gives you a stronger voice in local affairs.” For students in particular, these local affairs can dramatically affect their daily lives.
Don’t like MPD’s new noise policy? Want better public transportation to your internship? Don’t want the Zoning Commission to force your school to house you on campus? The people making all these decisions answer to local politicians, the same politicians that students could throw out of office if students organized and voted in DC.
Yes, registering to vote in DC carries with it the added price of removing your (tiny) voice from Congress. And that sucks. But removing your relatively larger voice from the local conversation based upon the statistically improbable chance that your vote might be decisive back home is just delusional.