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October 14, 2004 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2004-10-14

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OP/ED The Michigan Daily - Thursday, October 14, 2004 - 5A
politics of student voting

Gerrymandering the
student vote in A2

Exercise your nght to vote!

The Ann Arbor City Council considered a motion
to prohibit keeping upholstered furniture outdoors ear-
lier this year. Regardless of the stated motives for this
proposal - such as fire safety - many students saw
the proposal as a ridiculous move to clean up porches
that might look a bit, well, trashy, in an effort to boost
already-inflated property values. The proposed couch
ban caused many students to pay attention to City Coun-
cil for the first time, and more students became aware of
the apparent gerrymandering that makes it difficult for
students to be elected to City Council.
The city charter mandates the wards must "have
the general character of a pieshaped segment of the
City with the point of such segment lying near the
center of the city." In practice, this means that Mar-
kley and the other residence halls on the Hill are in a
different ward from North Campus, while iconoclas-
tic East Quad Residence Hall is in yet another ward.
East Madison Street between State and Thompson
Streets serves not just as the front line in the annual
snowball fight between South Quad and West Quad,
but also delineates the fourth and first wards. Add in
the off-campus housing scattered all across the city's
five wards, and it is little wonder that students feel
disenfranchised by the way the wards are drawn.
In a town of roughly 115,000, with about 38,000
enrolled students at the University, it would seem that
democracy entails a significant student voice on City
Council. The apparently gerrymandered wards do not
present an absolute barrier to students; Rackham stu-
dent Elisabeth Daley was on
City Council from 1994 to
2000. In general, a student
who managed to secure the
Democratic nomination in an
even year, when there is more
student interest in the elec-
tions and thus greater turnout,
would have a good chance in
several wards.
However, the current wards
do seem to form a significant
obstacle to a student's election,
and there has never been a time
when students regularly served
on City Council. Indeed, an
undergraduate has not been
elected since Carol Jones, who
became the youngest mem-
ber ever when she was elected
in April 1973 at the age of 19,
defeating a Republican can-
didate as well as an opponent
from the Human Rights Party,
a former local third party to the
left of the Democrats.
The wards in Ann Arbor,
in accordance with federal and
state laws, are redrawn every
10 years after the census and
are required to contain roughly
equal numbers of voters. The
City Council adopts a redis-
tricting proposal publicly, and
there is no reason why students
could not advocate the creation
of a ward with a student majority. The Associated Students
of the University of California - Berkeley's equivalent of
the Michigan Student Assembly - made such an effort
after the 2000 census.
Indeed, a student-majority ward would arguably pass
constitutional muster. In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court
allowed in Miller v. Johnson that districts may be drawn
to represent "communities defined by actual shared
interests." While it does not appear that any case in fed-
eral court has addressed whether college students pass
this test, the student community does appear to have
"actual shared interests," even if these interests might,
in some cases, be porch furniture and lax enforcement
of drinking laws.
There are, however, a number of barriers to the cre-
ation of a student-majority ward. Though the first ward
could perhaps be redrawn to include most Central Cam-
pus residence halls while retaining the "pieshaped"

nature required by the city charter, other language in the
charter would prevent such a reapportionment. Modifi-
cations are to require the "least possible change or alter-
ation of existing ward boundaries." More troubling, the
wards must be "a very rough cross section of the com-
munity population from the center outward.' A student-
majority ward would clearly not pass this test, and Ann
Arbor voters would thus need to approve a change to the
city charter before MSA or other student groups would
even have a chance to fight for a student ward. In addi-
tion to the inevitable opposition such a proposal would
face from some permanent Ann Arbor residents, a stu-
dent ward might be challenged in court as an instance
of gerrymandering - the very fault it would be meant
to correct.
Another serious obstacle is the rather transient nature
of the student population. Students often live in Ann
Arbor for just 32 months over four years in an under-
graduate career, and many never register to vote in Ann
Arbor. Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said it would
be difficult for students to gain the experience on city
boards and commissions that City Council members
often have prior to election. Indeed, students who do
not live in Ann Arbor year-round would have difficulty
attending meetings over the summer. City government
does not have four months off every year.
The most serious obstacle, however, may simply be lack
of interest. Couch ban aside, most students generally take
little interest in Ann Arbor politics, and many of those who
would, instead focus on student government. No matter
what the jurisdiction, local government has the reputation
of being somewhat trivial and
uninteresting. A student wish-
ing to serve on City Council to
defend student interests would
also have to be willing to debate
the merits of zoning proposals for
projects that would be completed
long after graduation. It is prob-
ably not coincidental that Jones
was an Ann Arbor native; most
students who will only live here
four years simply lack the level of
devotion to Ann Arbor that serv-
ing on City council demands.
Today's students certainly
cannot be blamed for the injus-
tice they perceive in the city's
current wards. Neither, it turns
out, can the city's current elect-
ed officials. The present method
of determining the wards dates
to 1967, when the city charter
was amended to redraw wards
with population shifts in accor-
dance with a U.S. Supreme
Court decision. This method
merely modified the existing
wards in the city, which were
fixed regardless of population
and dated back decades, per-
haps even into the 19th century.
Hieftje agrees that, though
we do not know for sure, the
pre-1967 wards were quite pos-
sibly originally drawn to split
the student vote. He also notes,
however, that no one even men-
tioned the divided student vote during debate over the
last re-apportionment in 2001; it was a non-issue. Thus
there is not the ongoing, active conspiracy to disenfran-
chise students that some might imagine, but there also
has not been a serious effort by students to remedy the
situation. The sad fact is that current students cannot
much affect the gerrymandering; the wards will not be
redrawn until after the 2010 census, and it will thus be
the work of a future generation of Wolverines to make it
easier to put one of their own in City Hall. The best we
can do for now is to attend City Council meetings and
voice our concerns when an issue affects us. This may
seem to be an insufficient and unfair level of participa-
tion. It is important to remember, however, that it was
also enough to defeat the couch ban.
Zbrozek is an LSA junior and a member of the Daily's
editorial board.

It's very exciting to see the intense interest
that University students are taking in this elec-
tion. Every indication is that a record number of
college students, here and elsewhere in the state
and nation, will vote in this election. This is as it
should be, because no one is more affected by
the outcome of this presidential election than
young people. It is your tuition that is going up
because of cutbacks at the state and federal level.
It is your chance to get the job you are seeking
that is at stake. It is the air you breathe and the
water you drink that need to be protected. It is
your friends and relatives in the military who
are losing life and limb because of a reckless and
needless war.
Unfortunately, the state of Michigan has put
many obstacles in your path to prevent you from
voting. In 2000, U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (then
a Republican state senator) sponsored a law to
Srequire people with Michigan driver's licenses
to have the same address on their voter registra-
tion and driver's license. This law was intended
to depress the student vote on college campuses,
and it did. Rogers very narrowly defeated Dem-
ocratic candidate Dianne Byrum in the 2000
congressional election, thanks to lower than
usual turnout at Michigan State University.
It is very important for students to have the
right to vote in the community in which they
reside, so that they can have a say in local issues.
Many of the laws governing tenant-landlord rela-
tions and housing safety, for example, are set at
the local level and affect students' daily lives.
I am delighted that many University stu-
dents took steps to register to vote in Ann
Arbor, despite the difficulties. Many student
organizations have worked hard to make this
happen, and they deserve hearty thanks and

If you want to verify that you are on the
voter rolls, and where your polling place is,
you can go to Publius.org and look up your
name. I recommend you do this, to avoid any
surprises at the polls.
Speaking of surprises at the polls, please be
aware that there is a history of voter intimidation
at precincts where students vote, right here in
Ann Arbor. Here are a few other things to keep
in mind about your right to vote:
No one should ask you questions while you
are in line to vote. If anyone asks you any ques-
tions - such as, may I see your identification?
Is your child support up to date? Do you have a
criminal record? - they are violating the law.
Do not answer their questions. Do not leave. Tell
an election official inside that someone bothered
you while you were waiting to vote.
You may bring voting information inside the
polling place with you. Just don't display it to
other voters.
If your name is not on the voter list, you must
show ID or your vote will not be counted on
election day. If your name is not on the voter list,
you can refuse to show ID and will be given a
ballot, but it will not be counted on election day,
because of the way Congress wrote the Help
America Vote law. So to be sure your vote is
counted, show your ID if your name isn't on the
list. If your name is on the list, no ID is required.
If you have been convicted of a crime, you
still have the right to vote in Michigan, as long as
you are not now in jail or prison.
You may use an absentee ballot if you are:
+ expecting to be out of your city or township
the whole time the polls are open
+ unable to get to the polls without help

+ 60 or older
+ in jail awaiting arraignment or trial
* are an election official in precinct where you
are not registered
Michigan law does NOT allow you to use an
absentee ballot if you are voting for the first time
and did not register in person with the clerk or
secretary of state.
If you registered by Internet, by mail, through
a volunteer a registration drive or at a kiosk, you
were NOT registered in person. If you will need
to vote by absentee ballot, check with your clerk
or the secretary of state to see if there is any way
you will be allowed to vote absentee.
If all this sounds unnecessarily complicated,
it is. We should be making it easier for people
to get access to the polls, not harder. With two
other senators, I have introduced legislation to
repeal the driver/voter address law (SB 1406 and
1408) and also to allow no reason absentee vot-
ing (SB1405), to allow first-time absentee vot-
ing regardless of how you registered (SB 1407)
and to allow voter registration on the day of the
election (SB 699). I am still waiting for legisla-
tive leaders to give any of these bills a hearing,
so please contact your state representative and
state senator to let them know you support these
bills. You can find out who your legislators are at
You can call the city clerk at 994-2725 if you
have any questions about the voting process.
If you want to work on election day to change
the system, please e-mail me at mad@lizbrater.
corn, so I can let you know how.
I hope to see you at the polls!
Brater is a Democratic state senator representing
Michigan's 18th district.


Students will show up to polls

In 1972, the first election that 18-year
olds could participate in, 55 percent of
people between the ages of 18 and 25
cast a ballot. Not a staggering number,
but nonetheless a majority, and a hope-
ful place to start for a new generation
of voters. Twenty-eight years later, in
the fall of 2000, only 42 percent of that
same demographic chose to vote, a
slide of 13 percent, or a solid eighth of
the population. What happened? Well,
one story that I have heard all of my life
is that my generation is one of apathy
and laziness, one bred of the leisure of
economic stability and the flashy, vapid
imagery of MTV. And we are, by and
large, slower to respond to, and quicker
to disengage from the political process
than any group preceding us; we are
the greatest electoral slackers in our
nation's history.

is going to carry this election.
Fueled by the grassroots efforts of
thousands of passionate and concerned
students across the country, the culture
of voting has begun to pick up momen-
tum in unexpected places as well. With
everyone from Dave Matthews to Sean
Combs lending their popularity sway
to an effort already including people
such as Russell Simmons and others,
voting has become cool. Urban Outfit-
ters, the pre-eminent gauge of the chic
and trendy, put out a shirt in the sum-
mer that said "voting is for old people."
The public outrage was so immediate
and incensed, and more importantly,
coming directly from students, its tar-
get market, that the shirt dropped from
the shelves immediately. The claims of
apathy from election cycles past have
lost their public appeal, and now it is
the voters who are "cool."
As responsive as entertainers have

Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land put
up posters weeks before the Oct. 4 reg-
istration deadline that read: "Register-
ing today? Remember, you can't vote
on Nov. 2." When asked about it later,
the incident was called a "mistake." In
Ohio, the secretary of state decided a
week before the deadline that registra-
tions that had not been submitted on
a certain weight of paper would not
be valid, potentially disenfranchising
thousands of voters. In Florida, chang-
ing guidelines for registration applica-
tions have pushed thousands off of the
rolls and have provided no mechanism
to contact folks who simply missed a
check box on the form.
These actions, along with many oth-
ers, have fueled a maelstrom of miscon-
ception and misinformation that has left
many students unduly concerned about
their status, with still more students left
in the dark about their rights. Why do

party in this country's history. We are
the least likely to hold the same politi-
cal ideals as our parents in decades. We
are the most technologically savvy, the
most interconnected, the most toler-
ant of difference and most passionate
about diverse viewpoints. We are ready
to lead, and have the compassion and
talents to do so.
For too long, we have been pushed
toward materialism and away from
engagement. We have been dictated a
curriculum in our schools that teach-
es us not to challenge and not to ques-
tion. We have been pushed towards
a version of success that views us as
pawns, not partners. We have been
dealt candidates who do not speak to
our issues, yet fully intend on speak-
ing for us when the time comes. We
have seen war and poverty and pain
and beauty and opportunity and gain,
and we have not been asked about any

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