In a scathing editorial yesterday, Samantha Katsounas called out members of the Austin City Council who voted to keep the city's 2012 election in May- a time when few students participate in local elections due to finals and summer vacation. The entire piece is worth a read, but I've selected relevant highlights below. It's one of the most succinct, smartly written pieces on the subject, emphasis mine.
While many UT students geared up for a trip to Dallas on Friday, Austin's City Council made a controversial and highly questionable decision regarding a seemingly innocuous topic: election dates. Instead of moving the 2012 municipal elections to November, the council voted 4-3 to keep them in May. The highly symbolic move significantly limits the principle of democracy in Austin while simultaneously creating a de facto limitation on the student vote.
Their refusal to move the election to November can be seen as a political move calculated to undermine Leffingwell. It's a travesty of democracy when dissatisfaction with a mayor, whether justified or not, supplants the desire to enhance the level of public involvement in elections.
For students, the issue is of particular concern. Currently, the May elections fall during finals week. College students, usually sleep-deprived and singularly-focused during their exams, do not have the opportunity to participate in elections as they might if the election were at another time. Likewise, any possible run-off elections take place during June, a time when most students go back home or are away on vacation. Moving the election to November would substantially increase the number of students able to vote.
The hard facts in favor of the November election heavily outweigh the arguments made by proponents of the status quo. Keeping municipal elections in May during 2012 will preserve low levels of voter turnout and cost the city money. Councilwoman Laura Morrison wrote in a Statesman column last week, “There is no compelling or pragmatic reason” to shift the election date. If saving money and involving more people in voting are not compelling enough reasons, what are? As long as our city council members are willing to perpetuate low voter turnout, students have every reason to be worried.
Students will vote when given the opportunity to organize around an issue or election. Turnout in campus precincts can range from the less than 0.5% turnout in this year's June city runoff to the over 99% turnout in the 2004 November presidential election. It's possible that this issue may spur student organizing once again- to step up to make students' voices heard next spring, in spite of the council's decision.