Letter to the editor: Students shouldn’t cede right to vote on school bond issue

Dear editor,

I am writing to you today—as a concerned Grinnell citizen and member of the Grinnell College community—about a most important issue. After a decade of discussion and planning, the local school district is asking registered voters to make a decision on April 7 about the future of the community’s public schools. Should the community raise funds by selling low interest municipal bonds to finance the construction of a new middle school and a new, consolidated elementary school? This is indeed an important question. But the particulars of the bond election are not actually why I am writing.

I am writing because it has come to my attention that a group on campus, Students for Equality in Education, has been advocating that College students not vote in the bond election. As far as I understand, and I admit that I haven’t spoken directly with the group’s leadership, their position is thus: They would like students to be involved, but that as temporary residents in Grinnell they should not be so involved that they effect decisionmaking on local issues. Instead, they advocate that their fellow students canvas in town, raising awareness about the upcoming election. While I commend their desire to ensure the integrity of local community life, on the whole I find the group’s position to be very troubling.

According to the Iowa Secretary of State, college students in Iowa are perfectly entitled to register to vote using their campus address, typically their dorm’s street address. While across the country we have seen cynical attempts to suppress voting, we are incredibly fortunate that fundamental voting rights are not tied to length of residency, property ownership or any other incidental characteristics. The only requirement is that we be able to prove that we live in the community when we register to vote. To say that Grinnell students should not vote because they won’t live here forever or because they don’t pay property taxes, both being arguments that Students for Equality in Education puts forward, is tantamount to asking students to cede their right to vote. Students may choose not to vote of their own volition. But to argue that they should not vote because they don’t meet certain arbitrary requirements? This is a big, big problem.

In full disclosure, I am a volunteer for Citizens Building Schools for a Better Future, a nonprofit citizen organization advocating for passage of the school bond—and I do hope that 60 percent of those who turn out on April 7 see what I see, that the bond offers an important opportunity for change in the local school district. More important, however, is that everyone who lives in the community educates themselves about the issues and votes. Period. Let’s take our right to vote seriously.

Thank you,

Caleb Elfenbein

Assistant Professor of History and

Religious Studies