February 12, 2012

Representing the Students

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AS ITHACA’S REDISTRICTING COMMISSION attempts to realign city wards with their respective county legislature districts, members of the committee must take into account the student voice. The commission should not limit students’ ability to become involved in the community based on low participation rates in recent elections.

During the commission’s first public meeting on Wednesday, many members of the newly-appointed board raised concerns over the current structure, which provides equal voting representation to each of the five wards regardless of turnout. The conflict between representation and turnout has been most apparent in the Fourth Ward — comprised of West Campus, Cascadilla Park and much of Collegetown — where more than 95 percent of residents are Cornell students. Members of the board argue that, given low turnout and minimal representation on local committees, students should no longer have the ability to hold such a high level of influence in future elections.

While there may be legitimate reasons for diminishing the weight of the student vote, simply redrawing the district lines for the next 10 years based on recent turnout would only serve to disenfranchise future students who could have a positive impact on the political climate in Ithaca. Historically, the Fourth Ward has given rise to the political careers of many young Cornell graduates, most recently Mayor Svante Myrick ’09, who previously represented the heavily student-populated ward, and Eddie Rooker ’09 (D-4th Ward). If a ward representing the student voice had not existed, it is unlikely that Myrick, Rooker and other recent alumni would have been able to gain election and the opportunity to influence Ithaca.

The redistricting commission’s proposal to realign the wards and districts in response to the present political apathy among students is understandable. Cornellians should exercise their right to vote by electing those who will best represent the student population on important issues. However, students — both those who choose to be involved and others who remain indifferent — should not have the weight of their votes diminished due to limited turnout.

In order to remedy this problem, members of the commission and other city officials should work with students to increase involvement in the political process. Likewise, students must take the initiative to become more familiar with local issues and ultimately make an informed decision on election day. Cornellians have shown an ability to contribute positively to the community. Rather than pushing forward an aggressive redistricting plan based solely on limited turnout, members of the commission should work with students to improve student involvement in the community.