Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Election impacts

Falwell encourages students to vote

With Lynchburg City Council Elections approaching May 10, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell said he would like to encourage students to participate in the local political process.

“It only takes a small turnout to make a difference during these off-season elections, 3,000 votes is all it takes to swing the election one way or the other,” Falwell said.

During the 2008 presidential election, more than 4,000 students registered to vote and were responsible for a 70 percent voter turnout rate in Ward III, according to a 2008 Liberty Champion article. Because of this a precinct was opened on campus, Falwell explained.

“The only reason that we have a precinct on campus is because 4,000 students not only registered to vote but came out and voted,” Falwell said. “We used to have to bus them to the polls.”

According to Falwell, when students vote, they benefit from their effort in many ways.

“(When) we used to go to build something here, (city council required us) to get a conditional use permit, …” Falwell said.

“(The city) used it to put a lot of requirements on us by making us build highway ramps or tunnels. That was money we didn’t have back in those days, so it came out of tuition money and resulted in increased tuition for students. Now, because students registered to vote, we have the new institutional zoning rights. … And we only got those rights because students voted, and we could just as easily lose the rights again if our (students) stop voting.”

Voters can influence City Council’s actions on matters such as meal taxes, lodging taxes, entertainment taxes and real estate taxes, Falwell said. At present, meals tax is 6.5 percent in the state plus 5.3 percent going to the city for a total of 11.8 percent. Meals tax is an item that is often discussed as a means to add income to the city budget.

Another added benefit from students being more involved in the local political process is the Wards Road pedestrian bridge.

“In my opinion, the city paid for the bridge over Wards Road as a result of Liberty students registering to vote,” he said.

Falwell used this as an example to show how important it is for Liberty students to vote.

“If you vote, (City Council) pays attention to you, which is good for Liberty students,” he said. “It is just good citizenship. You are going to school here, and you are here nine months out of the year.”

The election day coincides with the last day of Liberty’s final exams, May 6. While many Liberty students will still be in town for exams or to participate in Commencement May 10, some students may have already left campus.

According to the Lynchburg Registrar’s Office page at lynchburgva.gov, students can vote in person for the City Council election as they normally would May 6. However, if students are planning to be out of town on the day of the election, they will not be left without recourse.

Students who are already registered can participate in absentee voting by visiting the Lynchburg Registrar’s Office and filling out an absentee ballot application before the April 29 deadline. Once the application is turned in, they will be mailed a ballot.

Falwell explained that this is Liberty’s last shot to vote for at large City Council seats for the next four years.

“I hope students will vote locally in support of their university and this city,” he said. “I would appreciate the favor as well because, when students get involved, it makes our job as university administrators a little easier.”

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