Students: Think Before You (Register to) Vote

Kevin G. Gilfether

It seems as though it is easier than ever for an Oberlin College student to register to vote in Oberlin, due to the work of groups like OhioPIRG, Oberlin Young Voters, and the League of Women Voters. Similarly, it seems as though the calls for Oberlin College students to register here are getting more and more strident. I’ve heard people told that it’s important that they register in Oberlin because their votes in Ohio “count” more than they do otherwise, that the local issues like school levies and county commissioner elections are important issues that Oberlin students might have insight into, and (somewhat more surreptitiously than the others) that it will help Barack Obama win the election. All of these are probably serious concerns that should be weighed. I think a few more concerns should be added to the pile, though.

First, Oberlin College students voting on tax increases in Oberlin or Lorain County is seen by some in this community as contentious. The crux of this argument goes something like this: Oberlin College students, largely a politically liberal group, will generally vote for tax levies. However, most all of those Oberlin College students will not have to pay the taxes which they would (presumably) help vote into law. Oberlin College would not have to pay these either, as it is a tax-exempt non-profit institution. Thus, the argument goes, students should strongly consider whether they ought to vote on local tax issues, given that they would be imposing on those that would have to pay when they do not. This argument is open to nuanced debate, and I don’t want to present it as being a definitive reason for why students should refrain from voting on tax issues. I do think it is important to bring to students’ attention though, especially if they are considering voting in Oberlin.

Second, the issue of where a student considers themself from is important, and I think often delegitimized. The current climate, as I see it, is of some Oberlin students trying to register others for what I see as clearly partisan reasons (helping a certain presidential candidate win the popular vote in a state that is strategically important in presidential elections). I do not think this is the best way to frame the issue of whether or not someone should vote here though. Rather, I think what one considers their home is important. If a student is particularly interested in voting in (say) Minnesota because they care about the issues of that state and their municipality more than those in Ohio, I don’t think anyone can question that person’s decisions on reasonable grounds. To my peers who have become frustrated with having to explain their decisions about not voting in Ohio to others, know that I feel that your decision is legitimate.

Third, comes the issue of educating oneself on what one is voting for. To this, I would say, wherever a student decides to vote, the onus is on that student to educate themself about what the issues are. You have a host of faculties and resources with which to do this: you have your critical reasoning abilities, a community of peers and neighbors to discuss with, access to a wide variety of media and news on the issues you might vote about, and non-partisan voter-education guides put out by the League of Women Voters. So, if you decide to vote, wherever you decide to vote, please do your homework.