It goes without saying, I hope, that voting in elections is tremendously important. I have little doubt that many of you will decide to cast a vote on November 6, given the stakes. But for college students, deciding to vote is the easy part.
The big question, for us, is where to register to vote and ultimately cast a ballot. While I have requested an absentee ballot and voted on Long Island in the past, I’ve made the decision to vote in Ithaca this year. And I think you should too. Voting in Ithaca reflects the fact that Cornell is our home and encourages civic engagement of the community. In becoming Ithaca voters, we can move toward truly becoming Ithaca citizens and start healing the fractured relationship between Cornellians and the surrounding region.
The act of voting is fundamentally important both for the voter and society at large. The more pessimistic amongst us look at the numbers and conclude their votes are of little consequence. They fail to consider, however, what goes into making an informed decision. Voting necessitates some awareness of different platforms, opinions and visions of candidates. Further, deciding to vote incentivizes individuals to attune themselves to the issues facing their communities, large and small. In short, voting makes you a citizen of a community, as opposed to merely a resident. The ensuing popular discourse of an informed citizenry facilitates consensus-building and the identification and resolution of problems, for our betterment.
Of course, abstaining from the local political process remains popular amongst college students. In my opinion, it comes down to whether we identify with a community. Voting on Long Island, I was disconnected from local issues and was unable to adequately ascertain the nuances and motivations of candidates. I had little stake in the outcome of elections. But whether you recognize it or not, local elections in Ithaca, Tompkins County and Upstate New York carry with them considerable implications for us as Cornellians. Some issues, such as the policies of Collegetown landlords, affect us very directly. Others, such as the legalization of hydrofracking, will impact Cornellians later on. If we open ourselves up to the fact that our community extends beyond campus, it naturally follows that local politics matter to us as they do other Ithaca citizens.
Not only do the decisions of local policy-makers impact us, but many of the policy-makers themselves have Cornell connections. The Mayor of Ithaca, Svante Myrick ’09, is Cornell alum, as is Nate Shinagawa ’05, candidate for the House of Representatives for the local district. They have both reached out to Cornell students for support and are responsive to our situations and needs, as they were once in our shoes. Many other local politicians, however, ignore us and our perspective on issues that affect us.
As a non-voting or absentee-voting constituency, our opinions carry little weight in regional politics. Thus, the barrier between Cornell students and Ithaca at large isn’t simply the steep grade of East Hill (and this comes from a resident of East Buffalo Street). Our unfortunate propensity to ignore, or worse, deride the local community is counter-productive. Playing an active role in local politics will make local policy-makers more responsive to our interests and result in outcomes we find more favorable than empty storefronts at College and Dryden and the abuse of our local environment by drilling companies.
By voting locally, we become active stakeholders in what is undoubtedly our home. New York State Law clearly allows the practice of student voting in college communities, and non-partisan organizations such as the League of Women Voters of New York State even encourage it. Changing your registration also happens to be easy, as is registering for the first time. You simply print and mail a form. That’s it, really. If you’d prefer, you can even walk the form down to the Board of Elections just off the Commons and discover how close the rest of the city really is.
Cornell is remarkable in the sense of community it fosters, which is why the divide between Cornell students and the larger Ithaca community is all the more surprising. The truth is that we are all “townies.” If you take the time to vote locally, as I will, you’ll realize that this area and its issues affect you directly. Think not just about yourself, but future Cornellians who will inevitably face the same problems we do. Casting your vote as an Ithaca citizen will hopefully lead to a day when Cornell students come to see themselves as part of Ithaca and not simply the Cornell bubble.
Jon Weinberg is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. In Focus appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.
Original Author: Jon Weinberg