If more BYU students actively participated in Provo politics, their living situation would improve immeasurably.
A reporter for the BYU Daily Universe emailed me with several questions about student participation in Provo politics. I don’t know whether any of this will make it into his article, but here are my answers about student political involvement (or the lack of it) with some minor edits.
1. Student turnout was fairly abysmal in the 2009 municipal elections, with fewer than 10 people turning out in some student-heavy precincts south of campus. Why do you believe students simply don’t turn out to vote in local elections?
Students tend to stay home from local elections for one of three reasons. First, local elections don’t attract high turnout from any voter group; in a sense, low student turnout in 2009 reflected a broader disengagement with the city elections. Second, many out-of-state students decide not to register in Utah so that they can pay in-state tuition for graduate school or law school when they return to their home states after BYU.
Third, and most depressing, many students stay home because they do not feel that they are an important part of Provo’s community. Provo is a college town, and students are its lifeblood. Provo city policies directly affect the quality of housing, parking, and entertainment options available to students.
If more BYU students actively participated in Provo politics, their living situation would improve immeasurably. Some students do understand their importance to Provo but would rather endure their four years as a student than invest time in making Provo more attentive to student needs. That’s a shame.
2. Is there any feasible way student turnout could be increased? Is it realistically possible? What would it take?
Any effort to boost student turnout needs to keep in mind the constraints listed above: Mobilizing any group (student or not) is hard, out-of-state students might be smart not to register in Utah, and students might prefer to endure Provo’s treatment of students than work to make them better.
These are significant obstacles. Still, there are certainly ways of getting students to participate. The first step would be to target voter registration drives toward students. If students are not registered, they will never vote. Many people interested in boosting student turnout focus on educating and motivating students, but that approach puts the cart before the horse. Unless students are first registered, they will not vote.
If any group wants to mobilize students, they should bring voter registration cards to students, wait while students fill them out, then submit the card on the student’s behalf. The next step is to educate students about the candidates and, especially, remind the students where and when to vote.
3. What role do you think an organization like the Student-Provo City Alliance, a non-profit that aims to get students involved with local government, can play in mobilizing students and increasing turnout? From your point of view, do you believe an organization like the SPCA has the ability to make a pronounced difference?
Student organizations, including the Student-Provo City Alliance as well as campus clubs like the College Republicans and College Democrats, can and should get students involved with local government. Research shows that political participation is deeply habit forming. If student organizations can get BYU students voting now, then those students will be more likely to continue voting throughout their lives. The LDS church urges its members to participate actively in politics ; we do our fellow students a huge favor by getting them involved now.
4. In your personal opinion, do you believe students should become involved in Provo (and Utah) politics and government, even if they’re not from here? Do you believe it would be worthwhile? Why or why not?
Regardless of whether students plan to make Provo their permanent home, they should participate in local politics. Some out-of-state students will refrain from registering in Provo to avoid forfeiting in-state tuition in graduate school later on, and that’s wise. But that’s a small minority. Most students have no excuse not to participate in local politics. Participation in the political process is both a civic and a religious duty.