Students at the University of Wisconsin have had no problem electing a student for a seat in Madison’s city council. Numerous students have been alderpersons and represented the two student districts, even including freshman. Currently two students hold positions, but many more have in the past.
[student]Yet, here in East Lansing, a city home to another Big Ten school, students cannot seem to be able to elect one of their own to city council. Students often complain that they are not heard, but some students on campus didn’t even know there was an election, much less that a student ran.
With that said, MSU’s history is deeply political. We were a key university in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa during the 1980s and 1990s and were very active in the civil rights movements decades before that. The legacy of MSU’s land-grant origins has left the university with activist roots.
So considering history, how could a university town- with its rich political roots and many active students- fail at electing a student to city government?
The day after the election, I met with city council candidate political theory and constitutional democracy senior John Fournier. I was shocked at his outlook on the election, but helped me change my negative attitudes toward this election. I walked into Espresso Royale where I waited for him to buy his coffee and we walked outside of his favorite place to be.
The day after the election, I met with city council candidate political theory and constitutional democracy senior John Fournier. I was shocked at his outlook on the election, but it helped me change my negative attitudes toward this election. I walked into Espresso Royale where I waited for him to buy his coffee and we walked outside of his favorite place to be.
Naturally, my first question was, “Were you disappointed in the student turnout on campus?” Right away he answered, “No not at all – the turnout was phenomenal and I hope you don’t take a negative approach to your article because that wouldn’t be right.”
Only 14 percent of East Lansing voters submitted their ballot.
Fournier explained that there were even more students that voted than was indicated, especially with those who voted at Brody. He said that the results showed that few students voted compared to how many students were registered, but there were a lot of “dead votes” which actually meant that the percentage of students that voted was considerably high. For instance, over 2,000 some students are supposedly registered at Brody, even though there are not that many students living there because many have moved out of the dorm in previous years but have not been taken off the list.
This year 38 percent of students voted from Brody, which he said was a big improvement from 19 percent last year.
Fournier added that the voter turnout for the five campus precincts was 17.8 percent, compared to last year, which was only 2 percent.
“College students do vote, you just have to earn their vote,” said Fournier. “The College Democrats did an excellent job campaigning. For the presidential election last year 86 percent registered voted and 91 percent of all students went last year. This just goes to show that there is a huge perception that college students don’t vote – it’s just not true. In fact, college students are more opinionated and willing to express their views.”
[mom]When I asked John about why he decided to run for city council this year he replied that he was involved in the local Democratic Party, he is the vice president this year for the College Democrats on campus, and after the election last year, he asked what they could do in the off year to “push the envelope.”
“I follow city politics closely, and some of my fellow College Democrats approached me about running, and so I decided to follow through,” said Fournier. “I knew I could run a strong campaign and knew a college student had a chance to win. Many people in the city are unsatisfied with the way council is run.”
And John was close to winning. He received 1,481 votes (22 percent) while the second winner, Kevin Beard received 1, 884 (28 percent).
John said he was proud about the fact that he received many of the votes not just from students but from the East Lansing residents as well.
When asked about if he was happy about the outcome of the winners, he said that he had coffee with Beard and thinks he’s a great guy and told him that he would consider his win a victory.
“He has the right idea on developments, but he does need to be stronger with students’ view. The city is poorly developed and Kevin recognizes it and wants to help students and residents,” said Fournier.
Now that John is finally out of the spotlight he plans to be heavily involved in the important upcoming election. He is glad that the attention will die down because he said it was weird seeing his picture everywhere and everyone recognizing who he is.
“Like when I walked into the store the other day and wanted to go when the cashier recognized me and started talking away like I knew who she was,” he said.
[dad]John said he hopes people learn two things from the election. “First, college students DO vote! Every candidate should invest time to campaign on campus. It is so much easier anyway because there are so many people crammed into one area and it is so important. Second, people think that there’s a huge rift – but students have more allies in the city than they realize and the city should realize that students care and follow politics. Now that students have started voting – they won’t stop, which is significantly important.”
On the day of elections, Tuesday, Nov. 8, I walked into The People’s Church on Grand River Avenue determined to make a difference and elect a student that would actually fight for what students wanted and eliminate the ban on drinking games and noise violations once and for all. After waiting eagerly for the results, my hopes were crushed.
I was also disappointed at how empty the Church was – there was only one elderly man and myself along with the people at the table helping.
But there are many possible reasons for an overall lack of voter turnout from students in East Lansing. Many students are registered at home or feel apathetic about politics.
“I don’t like to vote for candidates when I don’t know anything about them or their background because then I don’t feel like I can make an informed decision,” responded education junior Maureen Murphy. “Maybe if I were registered in East Lansing I would take the time to find out the information, but I am registered back in my hometown.”
Murphy was not the only one that seemed indifferent to the election. As I went up to different students in the Union and in my classes, I was shocked at the similar responses I was receiving. Some of my favorites were: “What election?” “When was that anyway, and who won?” “Why would it matter if I voted?” “I didn’t know a student ran, maybe I would have voted then” and the most prevalent was just that they weren’t registered.
So I asked myself why are students not motivated after there are so many issues when students need to be heard? Maybe some are afraid of getting tear gassed, I’m not sure. Or maybe we feel that one vote won’t make a difference anyway.
Political theory senior Justine Ivanoff, who is chairman for the MSU College Republicans, felt strongly about voting and was also frustrated with the results.
“I believe that voting is not only our right, but our civic duty,” she said. “We are blessed to live in a country that allows us to choose our own destiny and to disrespect the men and women who fought so hard for democracy by not voting is tragic. I was truly disappointed with the voting turnout because as college students we\’re in a unique position to really make a change in the way things are governed. I think it\’s sad that students don\’t realize the importance of their voices and, in essence, the importance of democracy.”
Randy Neice, a recent graduate from MSU was president of the MSU Democrats last year but wasn’t able to vote in East Lansing because he resides in Virginia and is registered there. However, he said that he would have voted for John Fournier and “plunked” his other vote.
“I think John Fournier and the MSU Democrats ran a great campaign, they had a more sophisticated message than even the incumbents and also seemed to have a better field plan,” said Neice.
Overall, Neice said that he was satisfied with what happened and the election results show that a student who works very hard can compete with incumbents in local politics.
Now if only enough students felt like they were agents in local politics, too. Then maybe the city would become a working democracy worthy of the university\’s history. I guess we’ll have to wait until next time to see.

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