(SLU) -- Student voters on the campus of Saint Louis University make up nearly 30 percent of the registered voters responsible for electing 19th Ward Alderwoman Marlene Davis, yet she has never campaigned on campus.
There are currently 6,061 registered voters in the city of St. Louis’ 19th Ward, including 1,765 on-campus SLU voters, or 29 percent of the ward’s registered voting constituency.
For the presidential election in November 2008, the Busch Student Center (BSC) served as a new polling place for registered campus voters, something SLU Democrats Vice President Thomas Bloom called convenient and reasonable for SLU voters.
The election, which included a statewide gubernatorial race, drew 1,231 SLU voters and 5,041 total ward voters. Both SLU and the entire 19th Ward reached a 70 percent voter turnout.
“I really wanted to vote in the national election,” said sophomore nursing student Mary Clare Hogan, a Wisconsin native.
Five months later in April 2009, however, the citywide municipal elections brought significantly lower voting numbers for SLU’s precinct.
For students like Hogan and Bloom, switching voter registration to St. Louis from a home state made sense because of the “swing” status that many consider Missouri to have in national elections. Neither mentioned city government as a deciding factor for their registration switch.
Using the BSC again as a polling place, students in that April 2009 election voted for the mayor, comptroller, board of education and alderman for SLU’s ward, all of which are major players in city government and development.
But of the 780 registered voters who filled out ballots in the 19th Ward for April’s election, only 55 of them were SLU students.
When considering the overall registered voters in the ward, SLU voters only turned out 1 percent of the ward’s voters. These numbers, Davis argued, play an important factor when deciding her campaign strategy.
With only 3 percent of eligible SLU voters taking part in the April election at the BSC, the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners has since eliminated the only on-campus polling place for the upcoming November 2010 election, a decision Bloom and others have been challenging, so far with no success.
Citing SLU’s likely impact in making the 19th Ward the lowest turnout ward in the city, St. Louis Democratic Central Committee Executive Director Jack Coatar believes students should take more interest in local politics, not just national.
“I would like to see the student body more involved in local issues,” said Coatar, a SLU law student. “Local government impacts our lives every day. Sadly, there is no real source to learn about it.”
Public Policy and Urban Affairs professor William Krummenacher didn’t seem shocked about the low turnout numbers on campus but agreed students should take an active role in a government that provides many, if not most, of their direct services.
“I think there needs to be more awareness and organization among students as well as some institutional support,” said Krummenacher, who currently teaches the state and local government class at SLU. “Election officials won’t respond to the area unless SLU responds first, so it’s important to have that grassroot support.”
Incoming Student Government Association President Courtney Anvender described an increase in local civic awareness as “essential” and vowed to increase SGA’s involvement with the process.
“The first step is to bring city officials inside of the ‘SLU bubble’ to increase awareness,” she said, “and then you can convince students to go outside of [the bubble].”
“I think it’s easy to get trapped in the SLU bubble,” Bloom concluded. “We don’t really think about what happens outside of this campus and the people who are making decisions about our lives in the city.”
Mark Zinn is a Journalism student at Saint Louis University