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Value of student vote questioned

Published: Sunday, November 6, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 20:07

To vote, or not to vote? That is the question for many Texas A&M students as Tuesday's Bryan-College Station elections approach. But politicians, students and faculty are not in agreement about the importance of the student vote.

Harvey Tucker, political science professor, said it isn't important for students to vote, largely because they are uneducated about local issues.

"Students get their political information from The Colbert Report and The Daily Show, and those national media don't cover state and local elections," Tucker said.

Perhaps stemming from a disinterest in local issues, student participation in elections has been historically low. Participation has dropped to the point that Jeff Pickering, student body president, said the City of College Station has discussed taking away the on-campus voting location because of low voter turnout.  

"If we continue on the current path we're on, a path where fewer and fewer students vote in the City of College Station municipal elections, city officials will continue to explore taking away our on-campus voting location," Pickering said.

Tucker added that another problem with students voting is the time horizon. The typical student is a local resident for only four or five years, and the issues on a given ballot have lasting impacts that temporary residents have less incentive to consider.

Tucker expanded this concept to incorporate campus issues, as well.

"The general problem with politics is that we know who is here now, but we don't know who is going to be here in four years or more," Tucker said. "This is a problem with such things like voting for local bonds or with Dr. Loftin's plan for seeking input on a new parking garage on campus. The people who care are future Aggies, but he doesn't know who they are yet."

This ballot will also decide the the Texas House District 14 representative, replacing former representative Fred Brown who stepped down following the summer legislative session.

The winner of this special election will only fill the office for five months, and will not participate in any legislative session. There will be another race in March 2012 for the House seat.

Tucker said Tuesday's victor will have a slight edge in March because of incumbency, but will likely face another stiff challenge.

Overall, Tucker said this special election is not important.

"Should students vote because they think [this election] is important? No," Tucker said. "Because the person who wins will not be making decisions in Austin that are important. They'll have to run again before there is even one legislative session."

Candidates John Raney and Rebecca Boenigk disagreed with Tucker, each saying it is important for students to participate in local politics.

"Students live in the community and they are participants whether they choose to be or not," Raney said.

Boenigk emphasized the importance of voting in this election because the higher education issues at stake, particularly Proposition 3. If passed, this state ballot initiative would restructure one of the state's student loan programs to expand the availability of low-interest student loans.

Amir Barzin, student member on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, said students should vote in favor of the proposition because it will make college affordable for an increased number of students in need.

"At a time when financial aid programs and family budge are more strained than ever, this program has the potential to offer a low-cost alternative for students."

Boenigk said voting in favor of Proposition 3 is important because it will encourage socioeconomic diversity within the student body.

"If students don't vote for [Proposition 3], it is going to change who gets to go to A&M next year and the diverse make-up of A&M," Boenigk said.

Jordan Gross, sophomore history major, doesn't think voting in this election is important because the municipal issues on the ballot are relatively minor.

"I don't think anything in this city really effects me that much to vote for it," said Gross.

Students can vote on-campus in Rudder 501, and a sample ballot can be found at brazosvotes.org, along with alternate voting locations around town.

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