The Student Assembly’s new initiative providing a $15,000 earmark to register student voters may be just what the student body needs secure a say in the city of Williamsburg.
p. Progress has been made at an incredible pace over the last year. Following the replacement of city voter registrar Dave Andrews — who was indifferent to both student concerns and the law in general — with student-friendly registrar Winifred Sowder, students at the College began to enjoy a simple, non-partisan registration process. As a result, 700 students have registered to vote in the city over the past semester.
p. These strides have been enough to make the city finally begin to listen to student concerns, but it is not quite enough to change (yet) the unjust policies regularly implemented by the city, most notably the three-person housing rule, a discriminatory policy that deliberately targets students.
p. The SA’s new earmark, which would pay students $10 for each student they register to vote, is an encouraging plan. Our biggest concerns about the program were answered in a meeting with SA President Zach Pilchen ’09, Vice President Valerie Hopkins ’09 and Senate Chair Matt Beato ’09. The money will come from an SA off-campus account, not from student activity fees, meaning students will not receive payments directly from other students. The off-campus fund consists of money that has been raised largely through SA programs, such as refrigerator and microwave sales and exam care packages, and this program should be a positive use of money that would otherwise go unused. Second, anyone affiliated with the SA is ineligible to receive benefits, a necessary step to limit conflicts of interest.
p. There are, however, some problems with the new initiative. The program provides no maximum level of payment for a single student. Suppose that a single student registered 1,000 voters; that student would be paid $10,000, an enormous sum of money for their effort. The SA can fix this issue in several ways while ensuring that registration efforts are dispersed evenly across a range of passionate, motivated students.
p. First, it can provide a cap on the number of students that one person can register. The records of the voter registrar are public information, so the SA will be held accountable if a small number of people are being paid large sums of money.
p. Second, the SA must adequately publicize this new plan. Simple initiatives like campus-wide e-mails will help spread the word and ensure that the funds are not allocated to a handful of people with close ties to the SA.
p. The earmark has the potential to be a recurring program, and we hope that if the SA succeeds in registering a substantial number of student voters, it will continue its fundraising efforts. This will allow them to ensure that with each class that enters the College, a sufficient number of students register to vote in the city to prevent the city’s abuse of students over the past several years from ever happening again. Continuing fundraising will also ensure that money from students’ mandatory fees is never used to pay other students, as this would violate the spirit of a law that the SA itself passed in 2006.
p. We are optimistic about the program’s potential, but like many recent local voting efforts, it must come down to student participation. Students need to care about their say in this city, for the benefit of the entire student body if not their own. There are important local elections coming up, and with the help of this earmark, this election will matter for the students of the College.