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.