Passing an apathetic student district in Berkeley

CAMPUS ISSUES: Voter turnout in District 7 was surprisingly low, and the trend of not voting in midterm elections defeats the purpose of a student district.

In the wake of Tuesday’s election, we were surprised to find that despite UC Berkeley’s reputation for having a politically active student body, voters barely showed up to the polls to represent District 7, the newly approved student majority district that encompasses a population of 86 percent student-aged residents. While the numbers do not reflect mail-in ballots, we still find them shockingly low — especially considering the important ballot measures up for consideration Tuesday.

In a district with a population of about 14,000, about 760 voters from District 7 went to the polls to cast their votes. We expected low in-person voting turnout consistent with midterm election trends, but even after accounting for expected mail-in ballots, we predict that only about 2,000 of the 8,605 active voters in District 7 will have voted in the 2014 midterm elections.

We did not expect turnout in District 7 to be this low. For example, in District 4, which has a similar number of active voters, incumbent Councilmember Jesse Arreguin ran unopposed and still garnered more than 1,200 votes.

As we noted last week, students may not feel as tied to the Berkeley community. Even after the push made to register voters on campus, it is still difficult to get students to the ballot box, especially with the absence of a presidential election. We believe, however, that hearing student voices on local issues is imperative to ensure a better Berkeley for our peers and future students.

This election was especially important for students. Measure S, which appears to have passed by a wide margin — although not all mail-in ballots have been counted — proposed new City Council district lines to create a concentrated student district. In theory, the district would give students a stronger voice on City Council. We worry that because the District 7 seat is elected only during midterm election years, this same sort of unenthusiastic voter turnout will hinder the ultimate goal of securing a strong student voice on City Council.

Additionally, we expected Measure D — which passed by a wide margin in Berkeley, making it the first city in the United States to pass a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages — to drive students to the polls. The measure has the potential to spark a national movement. While we understand the time pressures students face, we are surprised that so many students were unable to allocate an hour of their day to go vote.

We understand that presidential election years see higher participation; however, we believe the importance of this year’s measures should have attracted Berkeley’s civically engaged students. But there is still room for hope. Perhaps, in the coming days, we will see more mail-in ballots than expected. And perhaps the establishment of a student district will urge future students to show up to the polls in 2018, armed with the knowledge that people fought for a stronger student voice on the City Council.

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  • justiceplease

    This election reflected the demoralization and spiritual disenfranchisement of large swathes of Berkeley – not just the students. I attribute it mainly to Mayor Tom Bates success at covering up the way “the other half lives” while he round-files any policy that could possibly help with poverty or the housing crisis in hopes that the displaced will move away Any displaced people instantly become “riffraff” to him.

    The new student district is problematic because it was blatant gerrymandering to get rid of Kriss Worthington, one of the more progressive (and student-supporting) voices on the Council. The ulterior motive was actually to reduce the student voice by getting a more conservative member in that seat. Students probably would have turned out to vote had there been a student candidate running, but that would have meant ousting Worthington, and throwing away his years of experience and all the clout and connections he has in the community. Despite the need for “new blood”, this is the wrong move for students. Run a student in one of the “old dog” seats instead, and see if you can shake Berkeley “crony-Bates-machine” politics up a little!

    As for the Soda tax: that might be a jewel in the crown for Berkeley, but do students who will be out of here in 4 years really have a stake in this? If they find the soda tax onerous, they will just buy their soda in Oakland. I can see why they took a pass if exams are their priority right now.

    If the students want to really get involved in important political activity, they should take a look at why the people in local communities who most need political change don’t vote: and perhaps, in the effort to get THOSE people to the polls, they will become educated about the issues, and they will make an effort to go to the polls themselves.

  • AnthonySanchez

    You can thank Student Action for this debacle. But don’t worry, we’ll clean up their mess with Independent Redistricting and explicitly define student-aged adults and student organized housing as communities of interest so they cannot be divided for political gain the way that they were.

    As for the presidential year issue, that is something we can also fix with a charter amendment. One idea that I think deserves consideration is to have all districts up in presidential years so that the turnout will be more full and representative.

    • Oh yes how awful, Student Action created an actual student majority district! Yes it’s not perfect but it’s actually there.

      I do wish that the few extra co-ops and foothill were in it, and I don’t get why City Council and Student Action has been so reluctant to support this change. I’m sure that there is some shady sh*t going on behind the scenes. But overall, I remember the difference being 87% vs 90%. It’s obvious that shifting the district would remove some students and add others, but the difference overall is statistically negligible.

      Again, I don’t think that this oversight detracts from the overall success of creating a student majority district. I’m more saddened by the fact that no students ran and we elected a dinosaur. On the other hand, I’d be frightened by CalSERVE/Student Action getting their hands more into city politics. I could totally see them running opposing students for City Council.

      “explicitly define student-aged adults and student organized housing as communities of interest”. EAVP Caitlin Quinn was just complaining on Monday how that would be gerrymandering, and awful. I’m glad to see that CalSERVE can turn their political machine on a dime. Reminds me of Mittens.

      Also I love how there has been zero reporting on President Pavan Upadhyayula effectively ditching Student Action. He wrote an op-ed with Caitlin Quinn against Measure S even though he was the f*cking official sponsor of it on the ballot. What’s up with that?

    • gwumpycat

      Don’t you live in Walnut Creek? How about you fix your shit over there and leave us alone.

      • AnthonySanchez

        Dear Anonymous-

        Your comment is not constructive to civil dialogue. I sense some frustration, but for what specifically is not yet seen through the anonymity and negativity.

        Thank you,

        Anthony Sanchez

        • lspanker

          “Your comment is not constructive to civil dialogue.”

          Yet he makes a valid point. As much as I disagree with the political stances of most people in Berkeley, I wouldn’t be happy if I knew my voice and vote on local matters was being diluted by out-of-town types, especially a bunch of students who were going to be moving on in a few years anyway. Personally, I don’t believe students should even be involved in local government for a number of reasons. First of all, as a student, your main mission in life is to get through school, GRADUATE, then move on. Berkeley is a stop along the way, NOT an end destination. Secondly, college students tend to be rather short on life experience but rather generous in their own assessment of how well they understand how the real world works. If I were a working taxpayer and permanent resident of Berkeley, I would not be too thrilled to have my elected representatives forced to pander to a group of people who don’t pay into the local tax base, and who won’t be around to suffer the consequences of any poor decisions made in their name.