Residents Debate Who Should Vote in Mount Vernon
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 00:11
As Election Day nears, controversy over whether or not Kenyon students should vote in local elections is becoming increasingly prominent. Because Ohio is considered a swing state, many students register to vote in Knox County instead of voting absentee in their home states.
Mount Vernon resident Mary Kuhn said she understands the rationale of students voting here, but she isn’t entirely comfortable with the idea.
“As far as presidents go and things like that, I think it’s fine,” Kuhn said. “As far as local government, if you’re not a resident of Knox County, where it’s not going to affect you, I guess I could see where that could be an issue.”
Everyone has the right to vote wherever he or she can show proof of residency.
For Kenyon students who want to vote in Knox County, this means supplying the board of elections with two addresses: the street address of their dorm and their Post Office box number.
“The average citizen lacks awareness of the law and of the historical consequences,” Joan Slonczewski, a professor of biology and Gambier resident, said. “One thing most people don’t know is that even homeless people have the right to vote in the law of Ohio and of most states. For example, a homeless person can put on their voter form as their address, ‘park bench on the corner of Main Street.’”
Still, some people feel that students’ opinions might not be as valid as the opinions of other local residents.
Knox County resident Jim Bridges said nobody should be excluded from voting, but was apprehensive about students participating in local elections.
“They don’t really have a stake in the local decisions,” he said. “[People] coming from other towns, other backgrounds [or] bigger cities might not have the same values and everything that you move to this community for.”
A Southside Diner employee who declined to provide his name shared similar thoughts.
“[Kenyon students] are only here for … four or five years, and the decisions made could be more long-term,” he said.
Four years may seem like a short time, but Slonczewski said that Kenyon students are here longer than many other residents of the area.
“A local minister told me that the average residency of a family in his church was two and a half years,” she said. “So if the average residency of a non-student is two and a half years before they switch apartments, move to a different county or get a different job, then actually students spending four years at college are here more than other people.”
Slonczewski addressed another thing some Mount Vernon residents take issue with: Kenyon students don’t pay property taxes, but have the opportunity to vote to raise taxes.
“We’ve been reminded that 47 percent of Americans don’t pay federal income taxes. Should they have no say in tax policy? Of course not, because they pay many other taxes,” she said. “It’s the same thing if you don’t pay property taxes. You pay other taxes and you contribute to the economy.”
She added that because Kenyon employs so many local residents, the interests of the community should be in line with the interests of the school.
“For every three students, Kenyon employs a local staff person doing something at the College,” Slonczewski said. “The student-faculty ratio is 10 to one. The student to staff ratio is three to one. That means that more than 500 local people are employed. Kenyon is not only one of the larger employers but also one of the highest-paying employers in the county.”