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Students: Don't listen to the Hoya, vote in DC

Yesterday, the Georgetown Hoya student newspaper published a provocative editorial calling on students to not vote in DC, and rather vote absentee in their home states. That's terrible advice.

Photo by NewsHour on Flickr.

The reasoning behind the piece was that with DC disenfranchised in Congress and its 3 electoral votes guaranteed for Obama, students would "get more bang from their ballot" by voting in more competitive and consequential elections back home.

The heart of the editorial points to the slim 537 votes by which George W. Bush beat Al Gore in Florida in 2000. It notes that 250 current Georgetowners are from Florida, and concludes that "you never know beforehand if voting will make a difference."

There's some undeniable truth to this reasoning, but it's myopic. The editorial throws a bone to the admirable DC Students Speak effort, but kicks the legs out of that campaign by stating "it's evident that poor student turnout in DC has been problematic." In other words, because students don't vote here, why bother voting here?

Here are some other numbers: Georgetown University has over 7,000 undergrads. GWU has over 10,000. In 2008, Jack Evans beat Cary Silverman for the Democratic nomination to represent Ward 2 on the DC Council, 3,100 votes to 1,700. This year he ran unopposed and only drew 2,900 votes.

If 30% of college students living in Ward 2 would vote for an alternative candidate they would swamp Evans. Or, if they supported Evans, he would have to count them as one of his most important constituencies.

The Hoya's pages are often filled with angst over the way students are treated by the District government. Don't they see the connection?

The editorial's view reflects an unfortunate yet common attitude among DC residents who work in or cover national politics (or, as the case may be, aspire to do so): namely, that local politics is bush league, that it's something to be concerned about only when there's a scandal, and that the epic battle between the national parties to control Congress and the White House is all that matters. That couldn't be further from the truth.

Local politics do matter. As David Alpert wrote recently: "If you live in the District, you should vote here. It's the right thing to do. It gives you a stronger voice in local affairs." For students in particular, these local affairs can dramatically affect their daily lives.

Don't like MPD's new noise policy? Want better public transportation to your internship? Don't want the Zoning Commission to force your school to house you on campus? The people making all these decisions answer to local politicians, the same politicians that students could throw out of office if students organized and voted in DC.

Yes, registering to vote in DC carries with it the added price of removing your (tiny) voice from Congress. And that sucks. But removing your relatively larger voice from the local conversation based upon the statistically improbable chance that your vote might be decisive back home is just delusional.

Topher Mathews has lived in the DC area since 1999. He created the Georgetown Metropolitan in 2008 to report on news and events for the neighborhood and to advocate for changes that will enhance its urban form and function. A native of Wilton, CT, he lives with his wife and daughter in Georgetown.  


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I'd strongly suspect, given the number of Arabs I see out and about Georgetown, that a significant portion of undergrad population are not US citizens and not eligible to vote in local or national elections.

Unless there is some real developments is the continuing flagellation of the Mayor, I doubt the DC elections would be as significant as a Presidential elections. Sorry, it's true.

(and given how Obama has been pissing on the under 25 year old set, if turnout rates for college students hit 20% I'll be amazed)

by charlie on Sep 12, 2012 10:12 am • linkreport

What is happening in November is important to the future of the USA. If you are here at GGW because you are concerned about transportation and development issues, and their effect on global warming, on the very future of the planet, you will I think be very concerned about the result.

If you want to register in DC AFTER November, to impact DC council races, fine. If you dont live in a swing state anyway, it probably doesnt matter. If you are from Va, NC, Fl, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, Colorado, or Nevada, you should strongly consider voting in your home state, if thats still possible for you.

by VotelikeYourWholeWorldDependedOnIt on Sep 12, 2012 10:19 am • linkreport

Honestly, there are significant reasons to tie your own fate to your home state rather than DC, both for policy reasons as well as keeping your home state residency intact.

I'd strongly suspect, given the number of Arabs I see out and about Georgetown, that a significant portion of undergrad population are not US citizens

You COULD have looked it up: Georgetown undergraduates are 9% international, the rest being Americans.

by JustMe on Sep 12, 2012 10:21 am • linkreport

The editorials from The Hoya this year (all 2 weeks of them) have been almost uniformly inane, poorly researched, and poorly thought out.

The percentage of internationals is about 10%.

Given the happenings of the past few years, I find it difficult to argue with the notion that DC politics is "bush league."

Obviously, the real issue here is a collective action problem. The student vote would only become a real force if hundreds or thousands of students took part. Given the very real logistical obstacles and uncertainty involved in registering to vote in DC (things that were exploited by Westy Byrd, for instance), such as car insurance and registration issues, taxes and reciprocity when you're a dependent, etc., achieving the critical mass needed is exceptionally difficult. And, of course, at schools like GU, GWU, and AU more than others around the country, many students come to college here specifically because of their interest in national politics. Voluntarily removing themselves from that (and losing the congressional representation with whom they could secure internships - EHN ain't hiring no GU students in her office) is a non-starter for many.

by Dizzy on Sep 12, 2012 10:22 am • linkreport

Just a factcheck note: Bush did not win the popular vote in Florida. The total you cite was the count when the SCOTUS stopped the recount.

@Charlie: The number of "Foreign Students" is both irrelevant since the target of the story was the 250 students from Florida, and other similarly displaced students from battleground states. Also, just can tell a person's citizenship status by appearance. We need you in the TSA fer sure.

by Alger on Sep 12, 2012 10:23 am • linkreport

May I suggest that you contact the Hoya to see if they would except a guest column about this issue. When I was in College and worked for the school paper, we were always happy to have guest columnists write about important issues in the area.


by Thad on Sep 12, 2012 10:23 am • linkreport

Of course any GGW contrib is going to say that the students should vote here.

Calling students "delusional" simply because they choose to vote in their hometowns where they actually get representation in Congress and where the electoral votes for the President aren't already decided, except of in DC (their temporary home for less than 4 years) where the opposite true, is totally unwarranted and deceptive.

by King Terrapin on Sep 12, 2012 10:50 am • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by Rich on Sep 12, 2012 11:04 am • linkreport

You need to present a more compelling argument for students to vote in DC rather than their home state. If I were a Gtown undergrad and I had the option of voting in a state where my vote for Congress resulted in voting representation in both houses of Congress, and there were local races that I cared about (like voting for my high school friend's father to become the first black county commissioner in Calvert County back in 2002), I would absolutely vote by absentee ballot. If I came from a swing state, then for me it would be a no-brainer.

by grumpy on Sep 12, 2012 11:52 am • linkreport

I'm currently a freshman at Georgetown, and I'm from Connecticut. It was difficult deciding where to register, because in both places, my vote for president isn't really going to be "needed" all that much. Ultimatly though, I registered in my home state. Yes, I realize that ANC meetings and District policies towards campus expansion have more effect on my day-to-day life, but Connecticut is still my home state. I understand its politics, attitudes, and issues because I grew up there. I'm still a newcomer here in Washington, and I don't know enough about local history and attitudes to make an informed vote for citywide officials. Furthermore, I care deeply about issues of livability and alternative transportation. Washington has already made big strides on this front, and this blog is proof that the movement is strong here. In Connecticut, "livability" is still an unknown term, so I feel that my small influence is needed more back home.

by Michael on Sep 12, 2012 11:52 am • linkreport

Oh come on. Students have a choice where they vote, whether that is right or not. You can not argue that voting for a council member is more important than the president and majorities in Congress. Therefor, especially if a student is from a swing state, their vote weighs more there than here.

On the whole, I actually do think it's more important to make sure students actually do vote, regardless of where they vote. I see voting as a very important duty that you have to perform in return for all the nice things you get from your country: freedom, safety, opportunity, etc.

BTW: I voted today (back home)!

by Jasper on Sep 12, 2012 12:07 pm • linkreport

@ charlie/JustMe:I'd strongly suspect, given the number of Arabs I see out and about Georgetown, that a significant portion of undergrad population are not US citizens

You COULD have looked it up: Georgetown undergraduates are 9% international, the rest being Americans.

And there is the fact that there are plenty of Americans of Arab decent. I've heard you guys even have a president with an Arabic middle name....

by Jasper on Sep 12, 2012 12:09 pm • linkreport

@ Alger:Bush did not win the popular vote in Florida. The total you cite was the count when the SCOTUS stopped the recount.

Oh he won all right. He got to be president for 8 years. You are correct in stating that it took SCOTUS intervention to get him to win, not vote counting. Al Gore got most votes.

by Jasper on Sep 12, 2012 12:12 pm • linkreport

This is a tough choice since many states and local groups try to rob students of their voting rights in towns around the nation, and in G-town their are some especially elite and overbearing locals who don't want students to have any say in how the community is run. Students just have to weigh the options. Where will their vote count most?

by aaa on Sep 12, 2012 12:15 pm • linkreport

@aaa: if what you say is true, then it is obvious: the students could vote to oust their various SMD reps. That would change the character of ANC 2E, profoundly.

by goldfish on Sep 12, 2012 12:31 pm • linkreport

given the number of Arabs I see out and about Georgetown

Wow, so we can discern people's citizenship by the color of their skin now?

Where I come from (the eastern side of town), we call that racism.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Sep 12, 2012 12:59 pm • linkreport

@Geoffrey Hatchard; nope, it by the guys in their 20s driving 75,000 BMWs and range rovers.

God only know what you call that over there.....

by charlie on Sep 12, 2012 1:03 pm • linkreport

it by the guys in their 20s driving 75,000 BMWs and range rovers.

Good point, there are hardly any rich people in the USA, compared to immigrants from the middle east.

by JustMe on Sep 12, 2012 2:30 pm • linkreport

folks who drive 75,000 BMWs should get a lecture on going carlite, whereever they are from.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 12, 2012 2:58 pm • linkreport

This article completely misses the elephant in DC politics, which is that control of Congress matters a lot more than the actions of any one councilmember. When Democrats control the House, Norton gets to vote in committee, when they don't she doesn't. And when Republicans control the house, people with no connection whatsoever to DC, who don't have any views in common with the vast majority of DC's citizens, get to make the final decision on many important social and economic issues in the city.

So, students who care about DC should vote to get DC's Delegate to Congress maximum power, and to put people who share the political views of DC citizens in charge of the subcommitees that oversee DC.

by PS on Sep 12, 2012 3:27 pm • linkreport

This is the first election in which I'll be voting in DC, but if my home state was more competitive in the presidential election, and Maryland never is, then I would likely vote back there given the option. But the problem I have here is that I don't want to join any party, and in a town with complete Democratic dominance, I effectively can't vote for my mayor, councilmember, or other positions. It womps.

by Tim on Sep 12, 2012 3:42 pm • linkreport

Let's not kid ourselves here. How many students actually come from competitive districts? Not everyone lives in a critical county in Ohio or Florida.

by ADW on Sep 12, 2012 4:16 pm • linkreport

Doesn't matter if you're from a "critical county," just the state.

You say "join a party" like it's some kind of commitment. It's not like you have to do anything other than check a box. You have to weigh your desire to be independent with your desire to participate in a meaningful way. But you can still vote for any of the candidates in the general election.

by MLD on Sep 12, 2012 4:32 pm • linkreport

College students should vote in person at the home state voting in DC does not matter since, the 3 electoral votes will go Democratic 50k or 200k vote

by Native Washingtonian on Sep 12, 2012 4:33 pm • linkreport

"It's not like you have to do anything other than check a box. You have to weigh your desire to be independent with your desire to participate in a meaningful way."

Nope. It is more than checking a box, it is aligning with a party - and one you do not agree with.

Participate in a meaningful way, in a 90% democratic city? Giggity

by Independent on Sep 12, 2012 5:54 pm • linkreport

The article makes a few very good points that the author of this post does not address, namely, that "the university’s status as the largest private employer in the District gives it clout in city politics without a student voting force behind it." I think there may be a lot of truth to this. The University can and does have huge influence on matters of transportation, housing and so forth. Of course, I think if the editorial is going to discourage people from voting in DC, it should in the same breath encourage them to become more active in campus politics.

by Scoot on Sep 12, 2012 6:14 pm • linkreport

FWIW, the safe reality that DC's electoral votes will go to the Democratic candidate for president is why I felt comfortable voting for radical candidates in the presidential election in both 2000 and 2004. I see their point, especially wrt battleground states.

Of course, local politics matter and it's bush league yes (actually, yesterday I saw both MoCo Executive Ike Leggett and PGCo Executive Rushern Baker speak and I wondered why those counties do better, Jack Johnson excepted of course, than we do with many of our own DC Councilmembers), but I can see why undergraduates wouldn't be too clued into and connected to DC politics.

by Richard Layman on Sep 12, 2012 6:57 pm • linkreport

Oh, and I know in my first two national elections (1978 and 1980) it's pretty likely I still voted in my home district, not Ann Arbor. Not sure about 1982. Definitely afterwards I started voting in Ann Arbor.

by Richard Layman on Sep 12, 2012 6:58 pm • linkreport

@Scoot:The University can and does have huge influence on matters of transportation, housing and so forth.

Yeah, and that's why the universitieS in DC have no problem getting their 10-year plans approved... Oh, wait.

In fact, it's terribly embarrassing that DC does not support the universities in any way. States have science budgets and state schools. DC barely has enough money to run their school system. And worse, the ANCs do everything they can to oppose the universities.

GW has to pimp out every ground floor to retail. Georgetown has to cap its student numbers. Gallaudet needs to build a fence. American can not build the dorms they want and need.

DC must be, objectively, the worst jurisdiction for universities to be in.

by Jasper on Sep 12, 2012 9:20 pm • linkreport

When I was at Georgetown, we elected two students to the ANC, largely via a student-driven registration & GOTV drive. It made no difference at all as to how the students or the university were treated in local politics. IIRC, one of the students even had to give up her seat early because of going to work as staff in another state on a senatorial campaign part-way through her term. I think she lives in New York now. I guess the question is: Is the commitment to a local jurisdiction really there for a student? I'd argue no.

I worked for the Hoya during that election year and we pushed and pushed for students to register and vote in the District. I even went and fetched election results that night next to the reporter from the City Paper. It was fun and exciting, but nothing really changed even over the four years I was in school because of how hard it is to keep a revolving door of students engaged in local issues. My dad is an organizer out in California and he has the same problems with their local student body. For him, it's just too much work to keep track of them between elections. You're better off as a consultant working from a stable list than trying to generate a new one from people who move every year campaign after campaign.

They may as well vote at home since most of them are going back there eventually anyway.

by Alison on Sep 13, 2012 10:08 am • linkreport

"folks who drive 75,000 BMWs should get a lecture on going carlite, whereever they are from."

Really? What ever FOR? Because they're not spending their money the way that YOU think it appropriate?

Sometimes, it just makes more sense to drive - including from an economical or ecological perspective. It's not your business what vehicle they're using to do so. Also, a $75K BMW is no worse than a hand me down beater.

by Trixie on Sep 13, 2012 1:50 pm • linkreport



Ive got no issue (well none I choose to mention here) with someone owning ONE $75k BMW. But owning seventy-five thousand of them seems like a bit much. I mean where do you park that many vehicles? How do you handle the paper work for all of them?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 13, 2012 1:54 pm • linkreport

Students have the right to choose where to vote here or in their home state. I trust that if they are smart enough to know which candidates will best serve them, they're smart enough to know which jurisdiction best serves their needs.

Both the Hoya and this post treat them like they aren't smart enough to decide. I could make a pretty compelling case that who is President matters a lot more to people than who is on the city council. If you really think that local politics matters more ask yourself how your life would change if your local/state government shut down and then how it would change if the Federal government shut down. In my mind, the two don't really compare.

So make your case, but it's insulting to call the other side myopic without knowing every student, their values and their personal situation.

Bush did not win the popular vote in Florida.

I'm sorry, but it's a fact that he did. And it's not because of SCOTUS. A group of newspapers went back and recounted the ballots as thoroughly as possible using several different methods and only when using the one that experts deemed the least fair did Gore squeak out a tiny win (I feel like it was by a dozen votes). But in every other method he lost. I'm sorry that's how it went down, but more votes were cast for Bush.

by David C on Sep 13, 2012 5:26 pm • linkreport

Certainly entertaining to read that GGW is calling another publication myopic.
Some day, they may even refer to those folks as little twits.

by Mike S. on Sep 13, 2012 8:43 pm • linkreport

@Alison: Thanks for the schoolin'. Nothing like real experience to demonstrate how wrong some ideas can be.

by goldfish on Sep 14, 2012 12:42 am • linkreport

What do relevant DC, state, and/or federal laws say on this subject? Is it ACTUALLY legal for someone to choose the state in which their vote is cast?

by Chad on Sep 14, 2012 11:59 am • linkreport

Chad, here's some info:

Some students may choose to register or remain
registered at their home (prior) address if they
intend to return there after college. In this case,
a student may need to vote by absentee ballot. If
you lived in DC prior to attending school outside
DC, you may keep your voting residency in DC
so long as you do not register to vote in another

by David C on Sep 14, 2012 12:04 pm • linkreport

Thanks. Interesting that, according to that flyer, in order to vote in DC, you are required to switch over your license and registration within 30 days. Not exactly an easy process in DC. No wonder students would rather vote at home.

by Chad on Sep 14, 2012 12:21 pm • linkreport

Actually that's not quite accurate. You do not need to switch your drivers license "in order to vote". You need to switch your license, but complying with that rule is not a prerequisite to voting. In other words, you can violate that rule without surrendering your right to vote.

by Guy on Sep 14, 2012 12:28 pm • linkreport

* Interesting that, according to the flyer, after voting in DC, you are required to switch over your drivers license and registration within 30 days.

Still not an easy process - if you take that requirement seriously, that is.

by Chad on Sep 14, 2012 12:37 pm • linkreport

Yes, DC makes it difficult for students to register and that keeps voting down in local races.

Just like Jack Evans et al. like it.

by Dane on Sep 17, 2012 2:45 pm • linkreport

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