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Harvard Students Evade the Polls

* Undergraduates register at home for local elections


In a University legendary for the boistrous and vociferous opinions of its students, undergraduate participation in yesterday's citywide election seemed sluggish.

"I don't live in Cambridge, I live in Harvard," Aadil T. Ginwala '00 said last night as he watched national election coverage on a large television screen at the Institute of Politics (IOP). "Every regulation I follow is that of Harvard...almost all the land I walk on is owned by Harvard."

Yesterday's student voter turnout seemed to reflect Ginwala's sentiments, as only a handful of undergraduates exercised their consitutional right to vote at polling places on campus.

Turnout in the local races for the Cambridge City Council and School Committee was particularly low. Of the 899 individuals registered to vote at Quincy House, at least 80 percent of whom are students, only about 25 had voted by 5 p.m. yesterday.

For the students registered to vote in Cambridge, this year's race, with its lack of compelling issues of years past such as rent control, failed to draw much interest.

"When there are issues that affect the students, then they vote," said James Simpson, who staffed the Quincy House polling station. "It's a lackluster campaign."

And Harvard students overall are unlikely to vote in Cambridge because most register in their home districts, said Quincy House polling-station warden Annie Scanlan.

Edward Wagner, who voted at Gund Hall and is an editor of the conservative Boston Mercury, cited the transient nature of student residence as a reason for low turnout.

"Most of the people who go to Harvard are from some place else," he said. "That is why Harvard students probably have a smaller influence in [local] politics."

According to election workers, low turnout partly stems from a lack of candidate outreach to students. "It's a city election, so generally nobody cares," Gund Hall station warden Bill Willard said. "It's not necessarily apathy. But it's just that nobody gets the word out."

Michaele Ferguson, a Government teaching fellow and Cambridge voter, said, "I tried to encourage all of my students to vote and they all gave me blank stares."

But at least one professor believes the lack of student turnout may not be so significant.

After casting his vote in Gund Hall yesterday, Warburg Professor of Economics, Emeritus, John Kenneth Galbraith, said he does not consider student participation in Cambridge politics vital to the city's democracy.

"Broadly speaking, I urge students to bring their intelligence to bear in their home districts, that's where it is most needed," said. "But don't take me too seriously."

Some students who cast absentee ballots in some of the national elections attended the IOP's "Election Night" last night, which made no mention of local races. Their decision, they said, was motivated by politics at home, not apathy in Cambridge.

"I know all the candidates at home," said Robert J. Baror '00. "I know the issues. I have a long-term commitment to my home area whereas I don't to Cambridge."

But turnout at the IOP event was dampened as well by the small number of major national offices in contest.

Active Students

Quincy House polling-station clerk Ed Samp suggested that although a student may choose to register in Cambridge rather than at home, that "doesn't necessarily mean that with that there is going to go an interest in local politics."

There are, however few, students who have chosen to register in Cambridge.

Among them is Barbara E. Martinez '00, who said "there are a lot of reasons for Harvard students to care about city elections."

Martinez, a Crimson editor, cited the safety of Memorial Drive and city beautification as issues which are "intrinsic to students' daily lives."

Kevin B. Acklin '98 is not only registered in Cambridge, but has also been actively involved in local politics as a volunteer on the City Council campaign of challenger David L.K. Trumbull. An unofficial first count early this morning showed a defeat for Trumbull, who heads the city's Republican party and was endorsed by the moderate Alliance for Change.

"I'm originally from Pennsylvania, but I pay taxes here through the school and I feel like this is where I live for now," Acklin said. "A lot of the issues Harvard students face every day are being decided [by the City Council]."

Opinions differed as to the importance of the student vote in the local democratic process.

Wagner said students' lack of participation in local politics deprives the community of an important voice. "Because they're somewhat detached from localities, they can think in more ideological terms," he said, adding that students can "participate in a less self-interested manner."

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