The thing about a college campus is that while it feels like its own world, its own society with a president and a newspaper and problems all on its own, it's smack dab in the middle of a city with its own leaders, its own newspaper(s), and its own problems that directly impact you.
Currently, Seattle is in the thick of a city council election. It's on November 5, and seven of the nine city council seats are up for a vote, which we do by mail in this state. If you are not registered to vote, go to votewa.gov and take care of that right now.
The city council is to Seattle what Congress is to the United States. The council makes the laws that impact life in the city—be it transportation decisions, action on climate change, zoning changes that could impact rent prices, and so on. It's an important government body and, after the primary, which was in August, each of the seven seats up for grabs have a progressive grassroots candidate pitted against a more moderate big-business-funded candidate.
There are college campuses in four of the city's seven districts. The University of Washington, located in District 4, may have the most potential to impact a city council race. The UW is diverse and youthful, but it's surrounded by single-family homes and suburban families that are not exactly diverse and youthful. Homeowners who hate change have sided heavily with Alex Pedersen, the District 4 candidate whom The Stranger did not endorse, which probably explains why he did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
Shaun Scott, who is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and who The Stranger did endorse, won in 17 of the 20 precincts that make up the University District. One policy position he has been pushing for hardest is bringing a Green New Deal to Seattle to fight climate change. Pedersen has said that he would not support a Green New Deal.
If the primary is any indication, Pedersen appears likely to win: He soundly beat Scott 40 percent to 23 percent. District 4 had the second-highest voter turnout of the city council races, but that was while UW was on summer break.
Will more students being around in November help? Uh, maybe. Historically, it hasn't been known for strong student voter turnout. According to Michael Maddux, who ran for District 4's city council seat in 2015, the U-District vote was "a lost cause."
Armen Tooloee, the incoming president of the University of Washington College Republicans, said that city council campaigns not targeting students is a "sound strategy, especially if you look at the results."
Tooloee told The Stranger that political engagement on campus is, for the most part, "focused on national politics and cultural issues." He hadn't heard much talk on campus about the city council: "I think most students don't have any idea there's an election going on."
Candidate Shaun Scott told The Stranger: "I recognize that low student turnout is as much an issue in District 4 as it is nationally, but I place the onus on the kinds of candidates that establishment forces have tended to run. Our campaign is obviously not coming out of that mold. I have that experience of being a student, and I understand what it takes to get people motivated to want to vote," he said, referencing his Green New Deal platform.
Tooloee is a bit more negative about Scott's chances. "Among students, it was pretty clear that Shaun Scott was the favorite," he said. "And if you see the overall share of the vote, it was still pretty small to Pedersen. It will be tough for [Scott] in the general where the people most likely to vote are old people and homeowners."
Are you listening, college students?
Seferiana Day, a political consultant with CD Strategic, said the issue with the student vote is what is or isn't being done on campus to reach student voters.
"This voting bloc is massive, and it's only growing," Day said. "It's an untapped resource. It's really up to consultants and campaigns to say we actually care what young people think and what students think, because young people don't think their voice necessarily matters to people who are currently in office."
There were almost 32,600 students enrolled at University of Washington last year. Of them, there are 17,320 living on campus or in off-campus housing in the U-District, according to Victor Balta, a spokesperson at UW. Back in 2015, the last time Seattle held district elections for city council, only about 25,800 people voted in District 4 for the November general election.
This means that if turnout for this year's November general election is roughly the same, or even if it increases by 5,000 or so votes, then UW students—if they all vote, and if they all generally vote for the same city council candidate—could easily determine the outcome of the District 4 race.
But as history shows, those are big ifs. The way to make those ifs more likely is for you, as a college student, to make sure you (and everyone you know) use your right to have a voice in what happens in our city. So make your voice heard on November 5 in the general election, okay? And don't give me that "I don't know who to vote for or why" excuse. The Stranger makes a handy-dandy voter guide for every election for you to use, and it's funny and mean and detailed and helpful. Our endorsements for the November election drop on October 9.