For the past several years, the Lawrence University campus has been divided into three electoral districts. The divisions are not only inconvenient for students, but also suggest gerrymandering by the city. This year, especially considering the intense presidential campaign season, many students wonder whether or not the district divisions skew students’ voting power.Gerrymandering is the redrawing of voting districts, usually to benefit a particular political group, by manipulating boundary lines. Gerrymandering is not always necessarily negative, however, and in some cases different lines are drawn because a county does not count the “minority” voters – those who typically do not vote.
The division of Lawrence into three districts only affects elections and issues at a local level, not at a national or state level. Typically, most college students do not vote locally, but gerrymandering at the local level can have a direct effect on Lawrence. Lawrence could have better representation and a clearer voice in local issues if the entire campus were in one voting ward.
According to Christian Grose, a political science professor at Lawrence, “If Lawrence had one district where at least 50 percent of the population in the district was students, then there is a chance the alderperson representing that district would need to consider the interests of the Lawrence student population.” If one council member had represented all of Lawrence, it is likely that they would be more concerned about campus issues such as the College Avenue bridge expansion.
City and county officials state that the campus is not divided intentionally and the divisions have no effect on voting, even at a local level. An Appleton city clerk election representative stated, “The numbers are given to us by the county, so we try to even [Appleton’s districts] out as much as possible.”
Some on campus think that because Lawrentians generally tends to be more liberal compared to the generally conservative city of Appleton, parts of the campus may not be able to carry a particular party vote during local elections. This includes votes for alderpersons, who would represent most of the Lawrence campus.
As Lawrence student and Wisconsin College Republicans chairman Jon Horne said, “I don’t think it’s at all clear that either party would benefit from campus voting as a bloc. Dividing our vote, I suppose, does have implications for issues where students tend to agree.”
Whether or not the campus is intentionally divided, voter registration remains a problem. When students move from one dorm to another, they must re-register to vote. Also, there are three different voting locations: students must be aware of where they should vote on election days.
“You have to be careful … most don’t realize that if you live on one side and then move, you need to register again. It’s really hard to get people educated on this,” said Andy York, president of the Lawrence University College Democrats.
Horne argued that since registration in Wisconsin is “notoriously easy,” he did not think that Lawrence’s registration process would have any “disenfranchisement implications.”
Whether or not gerrymandering in Appleton is deliberate, one thing is certain this election season – make sure you’re registered to vote.