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.