Should We Do Away with Student Wards?

I’m an election judge and have been assigned to the NIU Recreation Center for the past two elections.

As a polling place the Rec Center serves four precincts in the 7th Ward, or about 2,000 students. Last fall about 150 ballots were cast. Last Tuesday we got 8. Turnout for the other student ward, the 1st, is comparable. People bemoan the low turnout in this week’s election of 23% of registered voters countywide but this number is skewed by the student participation rate that is a tiny fraction of 1%.

I figure it cost the county about $1500 to put on an election at the Rec Center last Tuesday. It would have cost more if we’d had the preferred number of judges but we worked a little short this time.

Don’t get me wrong. We greeted and guided and appreciated every one of those eight students as much as we would any voter in the county, and the sense of duty and respect for the process works exactly the same for 8 ballots as it does for 800. But I think we’ve got to ask what the obstacles are. Maybe we should start with the hassle of changing one’s registration every time one moves, which students do a lot. Maybe we should move the polling places back into the dorms, where turnout is a little better. Maybe we should look at the laws for candidates, figure out why so many races have candidates running unopposed, like the alderman in the 7th did this time.

Maybe we should eliminate the student wards and see if anyone notices or cares.

11 thoughts on “Should We Do Away with Student Wards?”

  1. I understand your dilemma. Do we waste money holding these elections or do we go forward with providing this service in the Student Wards. I don’t think the student wards should be eliminated. That would send the wrong message and yes, someone would notice.

    The 23% turnout seems to be the average all over the State, in fact all over the country. I voted this past Tuesday but I didn’t have a choice as to who I voted for. Nearly every category of vote, every office we were given a choice of selecting three or four or five candidates for the open seats. Most people may assume that that sounds like a good choice. The problem was that there were only three or four or five individuals to choose from.

    I think the problem lies in the fact that the people who were running were essentially, unopposed and would enter the respective offices regardless if anyone voted for them or not. Who wants to take the five minutes out of their day to vote for a bunch of people that you’ve never heard of, never seen or never knew existed for offices where the outcome was predetermined?

    There is no incentive to vote in a lot of elections. There is no “vote” it’s anticlimactic and offers no payoff for the voter. Citizens need to become more involved with their local government and run for the offices that are offered. If we could attract more citizens to run and have real races I think we will see more participation in the vote.


    Joe Serra

  2. I don’t REALLY want to disenfranchise anybody, and I believe that attracting more people to run for office is indeed key to turnout in the local races over the long haul. But it sure is a waste of people power to have 12-20 election judges sitting there when we are scrambling to recruit enough of them countywide. I suppose that IL election law does not allow one set of election judges to oversee voting of an entire ward rather than just one precinct in these low-turnout areas, but it should. If that were the case maybe we’d be able to shake loose the funds for another early-voting site or two as well.

  3. Maybe if there was a system for an at-large student alderman we would see an increase in student participation. The current system has three wards, 1st, 6th, and 7th, that could be student wards if students voted. This system is not working for the reasons Yinn noted.

  4. I think the big problem with Dekalb is that NIU makes Dekalb go and grow. That being said NIU students play a very important role in the scheme of things(ie Sycamore Road business). That being said students need to be encouraged to run and make a difference. Kudos to Ms. Roache and Mr. Keller

  5. I know the ward boundaries were redrawn not that long ago. If there is any way to redraw them based on the number of registered voters instead of the population, things would be much better. As it is, the student-dominated wards have just a few people who vote and just a few hundred registered voters. There are two wards will thousands of registered voters (Ward 3 being one of them). Redrawing the boundaries could place student-dominated in with residential areas and even out how many registered voters there are in each ward. In the past (like the mid 90s), before the growth of more student apartments on the northern sections along Annie Glidden, there used to be just one ward considered a ‘student’ ward. I believe that was Ward 7. The alderman at the time was Jordan Kagen. Jim Mason eventually bought the apartment complex where Kagen lived. I used to live on that side of town. It was fun to watch the two of them argue.

  6. P.S. I guess for past political money baths we should not forget all the dough Mason plunked down in an attempt to get his employee Robbie Arrington elected as alderman in the mid 1990s after Jordan Kagen moved away. Some student ended up winning instead.

  7. I like your idea about redrawing the boundaries to include residential areas, Kay, and I’m always glad to get some history since I’m a transplanted person.

  8. When Rev. Jesse Jackson was at NIU I think two years ago, he scolded NIU students for not voting where they live. The phrase he repeated was “vote where you live.” I know many of them are registered voters in their hometowns, so not in DeKalb. Rev. Jackson tried to tell the students that they are affected by things that happen in DeKalb, so they should vote here instead of at home but that message needs to be repeated for each new class of students. So, not having enough student voters in those areas will always be a problem. There used to be a lot more student organizations doing voter registration but one year (I cannot remember which), the College Republicans got into to big trouble because when they asked students who came to register, if they were a Democrat or a Republican. If they said “Democrat,” well, they were suddenly out of voter registration forms, which was quite naughty. They got caught.

    I am very good at remembering stories, just not the years.

    I will say this, Brent Keller, the NIU student in Ward 7 should be a great alderman. He was a great guest speaker for one of my classes this past fall. He runs the Huskie Bus system, is in the line of fire for complaints, and that is a big job. He is generally a conservative. The student who has the office next door to him has a big sign that says “Hippies go next door” as a gag. That is too bad he cannot be cloned for the Third Ward.

  9. Last fall, the largest demographic group to vote at the Rec Center were young women of color.

    I do think that more & more students are realizing the importance of the federal elections next year & am looking forward to those. I plan to become a registrar this year.

    What the College Republicans did disturbed me very much. They were very open, joking about what they were doing, as if they had no idea that it was wrong.

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