Friday is the last day to register to vote in the aldermanic pre-primary election. The April 17 election will decide which candidate the Ward 1 Democratic committee will endorse for September’s primary and thus the general election in November.
Although a Democrat might run in the general election against the endorsed candidate in the primary, the chance of this is small, especially because the candidates currently running have all signed a pledge to abide by the April election’s results and not run in September if they lose. If you’re a Ward 1 Democrat, this month’s election might be your last chance to vote for your alderman.
Registering to vote in New Haven, however, is important for reasons beyond the opportunity to cast a ballot for the candidate you support. The Ward 1 seat is a Yale seat largely because of how the ward is drawn. It is essentially a rectangle around the heart of Yale: It includes eight residential colleges, Old Campus and many off-campus apartments.
Yale’s 5,300 undergraduates make up more than one-thirtieth of New Haven’s population, but if the colleges were divided between more wards, a candidate affiliated with the University would face steeper competition.
For instance, although Ward 22 is home to Silliman, Timothy Dwight, Ezra Stiles and Morse colleges as well as Swing Space, its alderman is not a Yalie. This phenomenon may also be at play in Ward 20, the ward that includes Southern Connecticut State University. There are over 7,000 undergraduates and no SCSU seat — but many students at SCSU are commuters, which disperses their votes to other wards or municipalities.
Registering and voting in New Haven shows commitment to the city — a commitment that can silence those who argue that Yale does not deserve its own seat on the Board of Aldermen. In recent weeks, the candidates have each elucidated their vision of the Ward 1 alderman’s role. But whether that role is as a liaison between Yale and City Hall or as a champion of broader city issues, many Elm City residents think it should be contingent on the level of student political engagement and participation on the local level.
In recent years, Yale students have shown through their ballots that they care enough to deserve a place on the board. The last time there was a contested election (in 2005, when Nick Shalek ’05 defeated the incumbent, Rebecca Livengood ’07), more than 800 students turned out to vote. As a point of comparison, only 526 people voted in the 2007 Ward 2 election, which saw the “the highest Ward 2 turnout in years,” as reported in the News at the time (“Morehead, Calder win,” Sept. 12, 2007).
Students often have to choose between being registered at home or at school. The choice is difficult. Thanks to the off-year election, however, many of us won’t have to. With the exceptions of New Jersey, Virginia and places with special elections (to fill vacancies created by Obama administration appointments, illness or recent deposition for corruption), there will be no national or state elections this year.
Moreover, in an effort to boost turnout, many states hold local elections on even years (notable exceptions are in Connecticut and New York City, where there will be a mayoral election this year). Thus, unless you live in one of these places, you can probably vote in New Haven this April and November and in your home state in 2010.
Such a decision should not be seen as a false demonstration of involvement in local politics. The 2010 election will be an exciting one in Connecticut: Two people have already declared their candidacies against Sen. Chris Dodd, and at least three have publicly stated interest in running for governor. On the local level, however, elections for state offices and the U.S. House of Representatives are unlikely to be heavily contested (just look at the 2008 ballot).
Registering to vote in New Haven is easy; it just takes a half-page form and $0.42 (less if you walk it to the registrar’s office on Orange Street between Elm and Court streets). You have until Friday at 5 p.m.
Sarah Nutman is a sophomore in Trumbull College.