Before you roll your eyes and turn the page, consider this: the Student Government Association’s voter registration drive this semester successfully registered over 200 students, a considerable improvement upon last year’s endeavor. Yet, while sitting at these registration tables, it was painfully obvious that the College’s population was shocked to learn that there even was an upcoming election in New Jersey. Even some of the most proactive students believed they were registering to vote in the 2008 primaries or presidential election.
There is indeed a state election this year in New Jersey, the outcome of which will in many respects have a greater impact on the lives of most students than the 2008 presidential election will.
The College is a state-funded school; our education is heavily dependent upon the actions of the New Jersey State Legislature, a body currently up for election. As many of you know, Gov. Jon S. Corzine cut the College’s budget two years ago and last year phased out the Outstanding Scholar Recruitment Program (OSRP) scholarship program, an award benefitting both the College and its students.
What was the result? Programs were cut across the board and the cost of tuition increased significantly. In addition, incoming freshman students did not receive any OSRP money to offset their cost of attendance. In the past, many of the OSRP recipients cited the scholarship as their reason for selecting the College. Another jaw-dropping fact is that public institutions in New Jersey have the second highest average cost of attendance in the nation.
Why did Gov. Corzine cut so much funding from New Jersey’s colleges? Because people who vote get what they want. Senior citizens constitute the largest voting demographic and therefore hold a significant amount of influence in governmental proceedings. We have the potential to do the same.
Believe it or not, studies conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau show that college-aged students vote at about half the rate of older-aged brackets. The study also shed light on the fact that only 57 percent of eligible voters aged 18-24 were registered to vote. While this age group represents about 20 percent of the total population it represents only about 8 percent during elections.
Obviously, the percentages are dramatically lower for state and local elections across all age groups compared to high profile national elections, but the story there is the same: 18-24-year-old citizens still have the lowest voter turnout ratings in every election.
Knowing this, if you were a legislator wouldn’t you make cuts to programs that benefit voters aged 18-24, such as higher education? Legislators are mostly concerned with the issues of the people that vote them in, their constituents. Hence they are least interested in the concerns of the portion of the populace that votes the least, in this case those aged 18-24 (us!).
Gov. Corzine and members of the legislature took this approach and cut a program whose beneficiaries would not vote against him or those responsible in the legislature for increasing tuition rates out of office.
This is why voting is so important. Sure your vote probably won’t change the outcome of an election, but students collectively voting can send a message. That message should be, “we will not, under any circumstances support any candidate that does not support the funding of higher education.”
Until college students vote in significant amounts, this mandate falls on deaf ears in Trenton. At the end of the day there are only a few things elected officials care about: getting re-elected, staying in power and appeasing groups that make this possible. Representative democracy fails those that do not elect their representatives.