Tomorrow is Election Day, but chances are good that you already voted. I believe this because, like many other politically active GW students, you probably vote absentee in your home state.
For a student body that is incredibly engaged on a national political level, there is a striking lack of involvement – or even concern – with what goes on in the city in which we live. This apathy manifests itself in many ways, but none more symbolic and neglectful than our out-of-state voter registration.
Admittedly, I have long been – and will remain until the end of this election cycle – an absentee voter in California. Until recently, I believed that a vote in D.C. was a wasted one. The city is reliably Democratic, and it lacks federal representation through which I can support my party of choice on a national level.
But taking into account the collective student body, things look a little different. Roughly one in seven D.C. residents is a university student, according to the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area. Theoretically, if all 87,000 of us woke up tomorrow and registered to vote in D.C., we would be one of the city’s largest voting blocs. The District is still discovering its political identity – it has only elected five mayors in its mere 36 years of quasi-self-governance, and the demographics are constantly changing. Overnight, we could reshape the entire political dynamic of the capital.
Melodramatic? Sure. Idealistic? Maybe. But consider the education reform push by Mayor Adrian Fenty and D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee that generated media attention across the country and sparked national debate. D.C. made similar headlines when it began recognizing same-sex marriages performed outside the District and liberalizing its medical marijuana laws. While residents live under the incredible injustice of federal taxation without representation, nothing can diminish D.C.’s symbolic status as our nation’s capital. Our actions in this city have consequences far beyond that of local government.
Understandably, many students are still registered to vote in their home states because they don’t feel rooted in D.C. More importantly, the quality of life on campus is just fine. We are supported by our parents and a private university, and our biggest concerns usually range from improving the food at J Street to scoring a fall break.
But during the few short years that we live here, this is our hometown. The issues are decided by only a mayor and 13 City Council members – ranging from the new tax on plastic bags to the regulation of D.C.’s fleet of food trucks that GW students hold so dearly. But these issues affect our day-to-day lives infinitely more than the city supervisor race back home.
Even on a micro level, we are losing the opportunity to truly circumvent the University and represent the interests of our own neighborhood. D.C. is divided into 37 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, which are broken down into smaller neighborhood districts that elect a single representative to their commission. Each ANC reports directly to the mayor and the City Council, effectively wielding the strongest neighborhood voice before the D.C. government. Yet despite the fact that GW’s campus spans multiple districts, GW students have historically been unable to win a seat on their own ANC. The reason is simple: Even if students decide to run, most of their peers aren’t registered to vote in D.C. So instead of having an active student representing the neighborhood on issues like late-night hours at FoBoGro or liquor licenses at local restaurants, we end up being “represented” by one of the few non-student residents in the area.
And if you don’t believe that GW has a place in local D.C. politics, consider that nearly a third of the 240,000 GW alumni live in the Washington Metropolitan Area, and they are leading by example. Asher Corson, who is one of only a handful of GW students to have been elected to an ANC seat while still attending the University, continues to represent his ANC-2A03 and serves as the president of the Foggy Bottom Association. Ryan Hutcherson is running a write-in campaign for mayor based largely on the premise of increasing District participation. Vincent Gray will likely be elected tomorrow as D.C.’s next mayor.
Tomorrow is Election Day, and for the first time ever, D.C. is allowing same-day registration. I encourage everyone who hasn’t already voted by absentee ballot to head down to the nearest voting precinct. It’s about time we start gaining a sense of ownership over our city.
-The writer, a senior majoring in business, is a Hatchet columnist.
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