One of the closest midterm election races in America took place in Virginia last Tuesday and the underwhelming turnout of student voters may have been a contributing factor.
Incumbent candidate Mark Warner (D) defeated Ed Gillespie (R) for the United States Senate seat by a razor-thin margin of 16,627 votes — a mere 49 percent majority over Gillespie’s 48 percent of the vote. Gillespie did not concede victory until Friday morning.
Nationally, the number of Democratic Party Senate victories were scarce, allowing the Republican Party to claim the Senate majority following Tuesday’s midterm results.
President Barack Obama said in a press conference on Wednesday that two-thirds of Americans didn’t vote in the midterm election. Michael McDonald, a political scientist at the University of Florida, estimates that only 36.6 percent of Americans voted in the 2014 election, down from 40.9 percent of the population in 2010.
Receiving 50 percent of the 18-29-year-old vote, Warner barely etched out victory despite being a career politician and running on a platform promoting bipartisan legislation and student-loan debt reform. This indicates that young people did not vote in the projected numbers that were expected.
At George Washington Carver Elementary School, one of several voting centers near VCU, a scarce number of students showed up to the polls.
Other polling places near campus included the Dominion Place and the Main Library. There was also a shuttle bus running from VCU’s campus to the three voting locations every 30 minutes.
In contrast to Warner’s tight victory, a proposed amendment exempting armed forces members’ surviving spouses from property taxes passed with 87 percent of the vote.
Another race on Richmond voters’ ballots was for the United States House of Representatives 3rd district seat. Robert “Bobby” Scott (D) ran unopposed and easily claimed the position. Finally, Edward Jewett defeated Emmett Jafari in a race for the Richmond Clerk of Court.
Jewett said when he was a college student, voting was the last thing on many of his peers’ minds.
“I remember when I was a student you were very involved in just being a student and making that little island out of life,” Jewett said. “But I think it’s important to remember that (students) are a part of society and we want their involvement.”
He also said it’s important to consider the past in deciding whether to vote.
“A lot of people died and marched for generations for women’s rights, for civil rights and now we’re seeing that with gay rights. People need to remember (voting) is something others have sacrificed for, and they shouldn’t take it lightly,” he said.
Steven Roberts and John Leonard are both senior economics majors at VCU. Both students volunteered for the Democratic Party this election and noticed that very few college-aged people seemed well-informed about the election.
Roberts and Leonard said that while volunteering at phone banks and canvasing door-to-door, they discovered many people didn’t even realize an election was in the near future.
“There are still plenty of people who think it’s important to vote, but the majority of people aren’t going to go out and vote no matter how much we knock on the door or place a sticker. They’re just not interested,” Leonard said.
Marla Estrada graduated from VCU last spring with a degree in social work. She was also disappointed with the voter turnout by other young people.
“They want change but they’re not willing to go out and inform themselves of what’s going on,” Estrada said. “That’s why all these issues are happening. People aren’t going out and they’re not prioritizing their responsibilities as citizens, and because of that future generations are suffering.”
Roberts said he thinks part of the reason many VCU students don’t vote is because they aren’t from the Richmond area.
“A lot of it also has to do with people who aren’t registered to vote in Richmond who aren’t going to go home and vote, “ Roberts said.
Leonard said he thinks the low student turnout also stems from the anticipated inconvenience of voting.
“Literally hold the polling in the middle of the business hall or the middle of Monroe Park because people aren’t going to go out of their way,” Leonard said. “We barely go to class.”
Alexa Schuett, a senior sociology and psychology major, had another theory about why young people did not vote in larger numbers this election.
“They don’t know what they’re voting for. They don’t look, so they don’t know, so they don’t vote,” she said.