Young voters

When Chu Qiu died in 2016, she had only been on Northwestern’s campus for a few weeks. She was struck and run over by a cement truck when on her bicycle, turning onto Sheridan Road, which runs through Northwestern’s campus but is owned and administered by the City of Evanston.

In 2003, Evanston redrew its ward maps without addressing concerns the map split Northwestern’s students among three wards, effectively denying the college students any power to affect municipal elections.

In 2014, Evanston city council voted to delay proposed improvements to Sheridan Road because of construction elsewhere in the city.

It was only after Chu Qiu’s death that Evanston finally began work on Sheridan Road. The new, improved road includes landscaping, improved waterworks — and a protected bike lane.

Chu Qiu would have started her third year of college when works finished in November 2018.

I bring this up because the issue of college students voting is in the news again, this time as a result of GOP-backed state legislation that aims to curb the abilities of out-of-state students to vote in elections.

The argument is that out-of-state college students don’t have established ties or connections with the local communities, and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to outvote the local residents who may have lived there for decades. The expectation is that these college students will leave after four years and don’t have to live with the consequences of local political decisions.

To unlock the youth vote in 2020, Democrats wage legal fights against GOP-backed voting restrictions

To unlock the youth vote in 2020, Democrats wage legal fights against GOP-backed voting restrictions

Democrats and voting-rights groups are pushing to overturn or head off measures they fear could erode the electoral might of young voters.

It’s an appreciable sentiment, and not one that I have an answer for. But denying college students the right to vote because they won’t be here in four years is a rationale that can be extended to other groups. The life expectancy in the US is currently 78.6 years at birth in 2017, so people over the age of 74 shouldn’t be allowed to vote because they reasonably can be expected to die within about four years. (The statistics are a little more complicated than that, but I think the point is still clear.)

How about recent retirees who move to a new place to enjoy their retirement? They haven’t been in their new home for very long, so they shouldn’t get a say in local politics. Or how about people whose out-of-state family members have new kids? It’s Becky’s first child, and she’s going to need all the help she can get.

You get the idea.

Concerns about college students committing voter fraud — because they’re potentially eligible to vote at two addresses — can be easily addressed in other ways. As one example, we can establish an interstate compact to permit state boards of elections to inform each other when an absentee ballot is sent to their district, so a voter can’t vote in-person in one state and absentee is another.

Establishing local residency requirements aimed at out-of-state college students is an overreaching and insufficiently tailored solution to these problems, but is an effective means of suppressing the youth vote. It’s denying young people their right to vote, their right to participate in democracy, and their right to make their voices heard and their concerns addressed in their government.

I can’t turn back time and find out if Evanston City Council would have been more attentive to student requests to improve Sheridan Road if the city wards didn’t dilute Northwestern votes. I can’t go back and find out if protected bike lanes would have been completed by 2016 if Evanston hadn’t delayed work to improve Sheridan Road. I don’t know the what-could-have-beens.

I wish I could, and more importantly, I’m sure Chu Qiu’s family wishes they could, too.

For all our talk about if college students deserve to vote, let’s not forget that they live on their college campuses and in their college towns. They pay local sales taxes and and rent local off-campus houses. They ride local buses and trains and patron local bars. And they cycle on local roads.