According to data provided by the Douglas County Election Commission, voter turnout appears to have increased across the board since the last city commission election in 2015. Total ballots cast in 2017 increased by 31 percent, compared to 2015, while total registered voters decreased by 3.1 percent.
Whether student voter turnout increased in this last cycle still remains in question, but there is still reason to speculate why turnout in the general election saw such an increase. Political science professor Patrick Miller offered his thoughts on the phenomenon.
“I was somewhat surprised that turnout went up,” Miller said. “My usual go-to response for turnout in local elections is that something must have engaged voters locally.”
Miller saw a possible link between local turnout and the state of our national politics.
“Lawrence has a lot of college-educated people, and women are more likely to vote than men,” Miller said. “So maybe the extra political engagement we’re seeing this year among that type of voter is translated down-ballot into even our local election.”
In Tuesday's local election, which saw a voter turnout 25 percent higher than the primaries, voters elected three new city commissioners and approved separate tax extensions on affordable housing, transit and infrastructure.
A handful of vocal students worked closely to drive more University students to the polls, including senior Eric Martinez, who currently works as the chairman of the Student Legislative Awareness Board. Leading up to election day, he worked tentatively with his peers to coordinate as much outreach as possible, tabling on Wescoe Beach and on Daisy Hill for hours at a time.
“We registered about 84 people to vote,” said Martinez, who is also the government relations director of Student Senate. “We also had a handful of people who said that they registered online, and more people who said they were going to register later.”
Prior to the 2016 presidential election, SLAB registered around 200 student voters. Reaching half of that number on a non-national election year was something that Martinez and his peers were proud to accomplish.
Martinez also worked with his peers to garner support for individual referenda on the ballot, notably the transportation referendum, which decided whether or not the city would continue to fund its transit system through a general sales tax.
Working with Zach Kelsay, a junior serving as transportation coordinator for the student body, Martinez introduced a resolution to Student Senate prior to the election which supported the renewal of the sales tax.
“It’s really important that students make sure that they’re represented, because even though we’re doing all of this stuff in school ... There are a lot of opportunities for us to have a very active and vocal voice in the things that affect us,” Kelsay said. “The more active students are willing to be and the less passive we are, the less likely we are to be negatively affected by the things that are actually happening in the real world.”
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Among those students voicing their opinion to their local government was senior Joshua Kassef. His first time voting in a local election in Lawrence, Kassef was drawn to the polls by what he saw as a poor government response to the problems already impacting his day-to-day life. Though Kassef was unhappy with the re-election of the incumbent city commission candidate Lisa Larsen, the results have not disheartened him.
“The people that you elect at the local level are going to be the ones that affect your life the most,” Kassef said, “and having a say in who gets voted into those positions allows you to have a say in what goes on in your community.”
— Edited by Gabrielle Cinnamon