In Berkeley, Calif., they voted local activists onto the school committee. In Madison, Wisc., they are actively sought out by every local pol who wants to win. But in Cambridge, student voters have never been powerful because they've never bothered to vote in city elections.
This November could be different. Cambridge Election Commission officials report registering 564 students to vote during last week's undergraduate registration, and those new voters could be attracted to the polls by a series of referendum that include questions on South Africa and nuclear power.
"Students can be reached if we get mailings out to them and set up a series of meetings," incumbent council candidate Francis A. Duehay said yesterday.
Cambridge Civic Association candidates will be most likely to go after the student vote. The CCA runs a slate of candidates, all pledged to the same "progressive" platform.
In the past, the independent candidates have written off Harvard students, concentrating instead on developing solid neighborhood constituencies in different parts of Cambridge.
The bulk of literature and effort directed at registered students probably will come from the Cambridge Civic Association candidates.
"Students would seem to be a natural constituency" for the liberal reform slate, council challenger David Sullivan said recently, pointing to the slate's rent-control stand as one issue that might appeal to students.
But luring students to the polls will be a challenge, even with the hot referendum questions and some persuasion from liberal candidates.
Ward 6, precinct 3, a heavy student district, traditionally boasts one of the largest voter turnouts in Cambridge for national elections. When the vote is only city-wide, though, the fire station polling places are the least crowded in the city.
"From my experience," Walter Sullivan, an incumbent council candidate and former mayor, said yesterday, "students will register because the table is in front of them; but when it comes to election day, they just won't show up."
Sullivan adds that he isn't too unhappy about the low student turnout. "They're only here a short while, and I don't think they should be straddling us with things they have no real interest in."
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