If you don’t have a picket-sign in your front yard, your professor doesn’t have a button on his lapel, and you don’t hear automated messages on your home phone, do town elections matter?
When students move away from their hometowns and into the bubble of a college community, a sense of town pride can often seem distant. But ASG, with its Get Out the Vote campaign leading up to Evanston's April 9 elections, has tried to show students the connection between Evanston and Northwestern affairs.
“The daily lives of students may seem disconnected from city politics, but they do have effects on students and every vote matters,” said Communication senior Steven Monacelli, ASG’s former Community Relations Vice President. He highlighted a number of issues that will matter for students in the election, including off-campus lighting and safety, the "three-unrelated rule" (also known as the brothel law), downtown development, Northwestern construction and expansion, pedestrian safety and town alcohol policies.
Monacelli retired from his position in ASG, which is staying neutral in the election, so he could work for 1st ward candidate Ed Tivador's campaign.
Medill freshman McKenzie Maxson said she sees a close connection between the Evanston and Northwestern communities. She said the overlap means, for better or worse, that Evanston decisions become Northwestern decisions.
“Voting in Evanston is a great way for students to show that they’re not only involved on campus but in the surrounding community that affects all of us,” she said.
Monacelli described the relationship between Evanston and Northwestern in one word: complicated. One of the complicating factors, Monacelli said, is that most residents have been around much longer than students. Residents watch students come and go and learn the same lessons every four years, he said.
However, he added, a lot of town residents do appreciate the University. “For as many people who may dislike the university, there are just as many or more that have a positive outlook,” he said. “People are always more vocal about things that are bothering them than things that happen to be going well.”
In addition to registering students to vote, ASG also held a candidate forum in two dorms with Tivador and his opponent, incumbent 1st ward alderman Judy Fiske.
Specifically in the first ward, Monacelli said, so few people are in the voting pool that individual votes matter much more than in state or local elections. When Fiske was last re-elected in 2009, she won by a margin of 261 votes. “State demographics define national politics but in a local vote one vote is huge,” Monacelli said.
Because of this, ASG has teamed up with Northwestern’s Center for Civic Engagement in its efforts to encourage students to register to vote. This organization is responsible for NU Votes, a non-partisan initiative to provide students with voting registration information. Every fall they team up with the Wildcard office to let students register when they receive their Wildcards.
ASG and the Center for Civic Engagement worked to register students up until March 12, the registration deadline for the April 9 election. Students are eligible to vote in Evanston as long as they are at least 18 years old, U.S. citizens and have lived in town for at least 30 days.
SESP junior Diana Balitaan is one of two student coordinators at the Center for Civic Engagement working on the initiative for student registration. Although she is not on ASG, Balitaan described ASG’s efforts as “a great goal and venture.”
Balitaan said her American Government teacher once told her she teaches the class to make students become civically engaged responsible. Registering to vote in an election like this is a step towards that, Balitaan said. Equally important, she said, is to be educated about what you want, who you are voting for and why.
Because the aldermanic elections only occur every four years, Monacelli sees this election as one of the few opportunities students have to take part in a process that can have huge impact for the equivalent of a student’s full undergraduate education. “We can only vote once while we are here,” he said.
Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Parkes Hall and Patten Gymnasium on Tuesday.
Disclaimer: Steven Monacelli was a past contributor for North by Northwestern.