Student voters are already having a positive impact on Liberty University’s future.
“We have registered a lot of students who have voted locally over the past several years,” said Mark Hine, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs.
Since students started voting locally, university representatives have found that local government officials seem more responsive to local issues that could impact students.
Recent discussions between Liberty and Lynchburg officials about a zoning designation for the University seem to be concluding without public contention.
The city has essentially agreed to designate Liberty with an institutional zoning status that restores many of the freedoms and property rights the University had when it first relocated near Liberty Mountain.
Liberty argued that it is uniquely located because it does not border residential communities like other colleges in Lynchburg.
While many university officials support Republican candidates personally, Liberty as an institution is not concerned about the party affiliation of City Council candidates.
“Our objective was not to put in Republicans over Democrats,” said President and Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. “Our objective was to have students participate and for the City to have an incentive to address Liberty student needs. Fortunately, that is exactly what has happened.”
Falwell said student voter participation helped garner the new pedestrian bridge over Wards Road and a new pedestrian tunnel underneath the railroad tracks, two projects that will greatly enhance student safety.
“What matters is that our students are voting,” he said. “When our students vote, Council is responsive to their concerns. This proves that representative democracy works and, if our students stay involved, they will be treated as first-class citizens.”
The political reality is that the bulk of the city’s sales tax revenue has been generated in and around Liberty for years. Students pay a hefty portion of the sales and meals taxes authorized by City Council.
Before students started voting, there was a lag of urgency in addressing infrastructure improvements in key corridors, such as Wards Road, that surround the University.
The City recently paid Liberty $1.3 million after agreeing to join Liberty in constructing a pedestrian bridge over Wards Road.
“The students have benefitted from voting in a big way,” Falwell said.
In addition to the infrastructure improvements, Liberty students have benefitted from structural changes, such as Council’s decision to place a new voting precinct on Liberty’s campus. Liberty’s off-campus students also have an opportunity to influence the decisions of council members citywide.
As Liberty students actively vote, their influence is also felt by representatives at the state level, who are key decision makers in infrastructure improvement, such as roads.