On Nov. 7, about 16 percent of Keene headed to the polls to vote in the municipal election, a high number for an off-year election. For some, it was as easy as leaving one’s house and walking across the street to cast their ballot. However, between getting a ride from a local, registering, voting and returning back to campus, the entire voting excursion lasted Keene State College sophomore Erin Lynch about 40 minutes.
“That took longer than I thought,” she said as we pulled back into the Zorn Dining Commons (DC) parking lot. Lynch said she wishes more people would turn out to vote, but understands that it’s tough. “I think that making the polls more accessible to the students would help [voter turnout],” she said, as her friends were still registering to vote.
Voter turnout is low across the wards in Keene during municipal elections, regardless if the voters are students or long-time residents. The official results for turnout by ward from last Tuesday have not been released yet online, but according to the City of Keene website, only two percent of registered voters in Ward 1, where on-campus students vote, headed to the polls for the municipal primary back in October. That is slightly lower than the rest of the city, where the voter turnout ranged between five and seven percent that day.
Lynch said she hopes that there is a closer polling location to campus in the future, as the police station is well over a mile from KSC. It would not be a fun walk, especially on that windy and cold November Tuesday. The polling locations for off-campus students is even further away. Residents of the Arcadia Apartments, The Mills of Keene and the Davis Street apartments, where many upperclassmen students live, vote in Ward 5. The Ward 5 polling location is behind Target, about 2.8 miles away from campus.
Keene City Councilor-at-Large Randy Filiault, who has served in city council for 20 years and was re-elected for another term, believes voting should be made easier for everyone. However, he told me that college students don’t have that many barriers to vote and need to make more of an effort to get to the polls. “If there was a particular bar having a college night that far away, they would find a way to get there,” he said. Filiault said he thinks young people should run for city council, but that he hasn’t seen it over the course of his multiple terms.
Young people are beginning to run in city races, and one of them won on Tuesday. Twenty-three-year-old Maggie Rice, who graduated from KSC in 2015, just won her ward’s city council race. She will represent Ward 3 for the next few years.
Rice is no stranger to municipal proceedings. She served on the city-college commission as a student liaison during her time at KSC. Rice said that being a Keene resident and a student left her feeling caught in the middle, but she said she enjoyed serving on the commission because she got to see people who cared about mending the relationship between Keene State College and the city, especially after the Pumpkin Festival in 2014.
Rice said she thinks having the polling location for Ward 1 by the police station is an added barrier for students who already do not feel like they have a stake in their community. Rice commuted from home during college, which she said made it easier for her to vote, but she still thinks that it is too difficult for students.
“The general consensus here is that Keene State students don’t vote,” Rice said. “If we can agree that this is a bad thing, why are we not encouraging and making it easier for [KSC students] to vote?”
Abby Shepherd can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org