GW Votes registers 500 students to vote

The Student Association and Residence Hall Association paired up Tuesday to register 500 students to vote in November’s D.C. elections.

Organizers reached their goal, registering 200 voters Tuesday afternoon and 300 more at an evening registration drive in the residence halls, SA Executive Vice President Jesse Strauss said.

“Because most students don’t vote in the D.C. elections, we lack the voice needed to represent our part of the community,” said Adam Siple, director of GW Votes.

The event’s organizers said they were pleased with the turnout for the evening’s events on the Quad.

“I think we really organized a great event, considering this is the first time we’ve ever done this,” Strauss said.

The SA and GW Votes – a student-led effort to increase student participation in D.C. politics – are turning their attention to students who live off campus.

“We have people in the residence halls (registered), but GW has so many people living off campus and we need them to be active members of the community too,” Strauss said.

“This is the most ambitious event GW has ever undertaken since I’ve been at school here,” RHA President Justin Lavella said.

D.C. voters will have the chance in November to elect a new mayor, and to vote for the officials who will represent them on the city’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, the most local branch of D.C. government.

In recent decades, as GW has become a dominant presence in Northwest Washington, members of the Foggy Bottom ANC have grown more fickle, said Richard Sheehey, a GW graduate and ANC candidate.

The most glaring example, he said, was the blocking of a joint effort between GW and public television station WETA to build a studio on campus a few years ago.

ANC members see no reason to acquiesce to student concerns because students do not vote in D.C. elections, said Ed Meinert, a junior running for a spot on the local ANC.

For that reason and others, SA and RHA members said they see the importance of promoting a local political voice on campus.

“We don’t need to agree with everything GW is doing, but we need our voices heard,” Meinert said.

“If we can get more students involved in voting, it will change GW forever,” Lavella said.

The positive reasons to register as a D.C. voter are clear, Meinert said. It would lay the groundwork for a stronger University voice in local elections and result in more prominent influence on important issues.

The negatives, however, include the possible loss of state financial aid, Sheehey said. If students rely on their states for financial aid, a change in voter registration would mean a change of residency and a loss of state-based aid.

But, the majority of financial aid comes from the federal government, so few students who receive aid would experience any kind of loss, Sheehey said.

For some students, another negative is the loss of a connection to one’s hometown. While it is a process that only requires filling out a single form or a few seconds on MTV’s Rock the Vote Web site, some students see it as too much of a commitment.

SA and RHA members said they hope to make students see the importance of voting in the District.

“I think students need to become more involved in this,” Sheehey said. “Think about where (most students) are exercising their democracy. This is where things are influencing their lives, not at home. It’s not even their home, it is their parent’s home.”

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