Local Elections Give Students Bigger Voice

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Election Signs

Supporters gather Nov. 1 in the parking lot behind the Washington County Courthouse to campaign during early voting week.

Fayetteville residents stood before rows of electronic machines at the Washington County Courthouse and cast their vote in local, state and national elected. Many Fayetteville community members said they think the state and local elections will have more of an impact on students and their day-to-day lives.

“Local elections bring up a lot of issues that impact students, especially in a community of this size,” said Andrew Dowdle a UA political science professor. “Because Fayetteville is a college town with much of its population consisting of college students, the student vote will have a bigger voice in the local election than the national.”

Those elected in Fayetteville influence city projects that could be beneficial to students such as bike trail expansions, arts and cultural programs and recycling projects, said Sarah Marsh, who is seeking re-election this November for her position on the Fayetteville City Council.

“We want to encourage students to feel like a part of our community,” Marsh said.

Fayetteville has 30 advisory boards and committees that Marsh said she would like to see more students joining. Committees like the Fayetteville Arts Council and the Keep Fayetteville Beautiful Committee review policies and provide input for city council.

“Young people are under-represented,” Marsh said. “These committees offer students the opportunity to become more active participants in government and get involved beyond the university.”

The local level is where issues are focused on what specific areas need, which directly impacts students, senior law student Angelos Lambis said.

Lambis is a registered voter in Washington County, though he’s from El Dorado. He knew he would be here for at least seven years, he said, and that motivated him to register.

Lambis said he thinks most students don’t see themselves in Fayetteville for more than four years and therefore don’t become invested in the local issues.

“As an out-of-state student, I don’t plan on staying. I’m just a visitor,” said senior Christina Mar, who voted absentee in her home state of Colorado. “I honestly didn’t know you could register in the state of Arkansas. I thought you had to vote where your address was.”

Mar would consider becoming involved in Fayetteville politics if she knew what the issues were and how they would affect her, she said.

Nancy Allen, the campaign manager for Mayor Lioneld Jordan, said that the mayoral office makes decisions that impact quality of life for everyone in the city, including students.

Allen’s primary example of this was the Uniform Civil Rights Ordinance that passed in September 2015. The ordinance protects members of the LGBT community from discrimination in regards to housing, public accommodation and employment.

“The ordinance makes sure we’re all equal and we’re all welcome in the city of Fayetteville,” Allen said.

Allen also said the bike trails as something that improves the quality of life in the city.

Fayetteville is home to a portion of the Razorback Regional Greenway, a 36-mile bike trail that connects Fayetteville to Bella Vista. Segments of the Greenway connect neighborhoods where students live to downtown Fayetteville near campus. Expansion of these trails are projects included in an update of the city’s transportation master plan, which is in progress. The update of this plan was a project approved by incumbents seeking re-election including Jordan and Marsh.

One of the biggest issues concerning students in the upcoming local election is job creation, said Tom Terminella, a Fayetteville developer and real estate broker who is running against Jordan.

Ballot Issue 3 is an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution concerning job creation, job expansion and economic development, according to the Arkansas Ballot Issues voter guide produced by the public policy center at the UA agriculture department.

The issue was created to encourage job creation by allowing cities and municipalities to participate more in economic development services. The voter guide can be found at uaex.edu.

Terminella’s campaign has been working with the Young Democrat and Young Republican organizations at the UofA to create a forum to discuss political issues before the election in an effort to reach student voters, Terminella said.

“We’ve seen considerable support that has evolved through the young Democrats and the young Republicans,” Terminella said.

Lambis said he thinks the best way to combat low student involvement in local elections is education, but Marsh said most students still tend to not be as involved

“From the perspective of a student, I remember being busy, I remember my whole life was focused around school,” Marsh said. “I think that’s why students tend not to be involved in local politics.”


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