Local voting for Centre students

I submitted this letter to the Danville Advocate-Messenger last week, but it’s looking like they’re not going to get around to publishing it. So here it is for interested parties:

I am writing in response to the letter of October 27th in which it was argued that Centre College students, who are “here on a temporary basis,” do not “deserve the right” to vote in the upcoming local election. The author questions whether or not students “know the ins and outs of local issues” and argues that students should not be able to cast a vote that might “cancel” the vote of a Danville “property owner.” As a Centre College professor of American politics, I must respectfully disagree.
First, while it may be true that most students do not “know the ins and outs of local issues,” there are many long-time residents who likely know very little about local issues themselves. Most Americans know embarrassingly little about U.S. politics. Should voting be permitted only for those who are able to pass a “political knowledge” test?
Second, I disagree that only those who pay property taxes should be permitted to participate in local elections. Most property qualifications for voting were abolished in the 1830s under the Andrew Jackson administration. There are also many long-time Danville residents who are currently renting. Should they be discouraged from participating because they’re not lucky enough to be a home-owner?
Third, it’s true that Centre students are temporary residents in our community. However, implying that they should not vote simply because they haven’t lived here long enough would also imply that all non-student newcomers should not vote either. Should we have a minimum four-year residency requirement for participation in our elections? If this were the case, even one of our mayoral candidates would have a few more years to go before qualifying to vote, much less run for office.
Most importantly, should we really get into the habit of discouraging people from voting simply because we think that their votes will “cancel” our own? Discouraging the voices of those we disagree with is certainly not a democratic ideal.
Ultimately, those who are worried about Centre students “sabotaging” the upcoming election likely have little to fear. College students regularly have one of the lowest voter turn-out rates of any group in America. If Centre students follow the example of their national peers in this election, it is highly doubtful that they will turn out in droves to vote and even less likely that they will have much of an effect on the outcome of the upcoming election. I dare Centre students to prove me wrong.

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