Students are not taking advantage of their potential political power, according to City of Newark Councilman Chris Hamilton, who believes university students have the numbers to dominate the City of Newark’s government if they registered to vote in the city. The students of the university represent a significant portion of Newark’s population, yet they are a virtually nonexistent percentage of the city electorate.
The U.S. Census Bureau found in 2016 that Newark is home to 33,398 residents. In 2017, the university reported around 18,000 undergraduate students, about 7,000 of whom were eligible Delawarean voters, according to the university Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness. If Delawarean students registered to vote in Newark, they could constitute about 20 percent of the electorate. Knowing these statistics, Hamilton is astounded that university students lack power in city politics.
“Students, the future of our country and world, could have their ideas codified if they took the majority of council,” Hamilton said. “They would get to decide now, not later, where city resources would get allocated and prioritize their vision of a better world.”
To vote in Newark elections and referendums, an individual must be 18 years old and registered to vote with the State of Delaware at a residence within the city limits 24 days prior to an election. A Delawarean student living within the city limits or in university housing could therefore declare residency in Newark and be eligible to vote.
“Taken further, you could help shape future academic classes at UD,” Hamilton said. “Forget boring policy classes, you’d have a real life experiment in governance. With that, UD would need to invest in more public policy classes to teach their students, council members [and] mayor how to maximize the opportunity to govern. Think about it. What an interesting social and political experiment.”
In the past, some university students have gone a step beyond just voting. In 2004, Kevin J. Vonck, then a 23-year-old senior research assistant and doctoral candidate in urban affairs and public policy, became the youngest person ever elected to the Newark City Council.
Ezra Temko, another former student, served on the City Council from 2008 to 2012 while studying for his Master in Public Administration (MPA) at the university. Temko was responsible for the creation of the Citizens Academy, an educational service providing information on the City of Newark’s government. He was an advocate of environmental and gender equality policies.
Hamilton claims that young people mistake protests and demonstrations for actual citizen engagement. He believes that students should put their passion into effect by influencing the city government.
“Instead of protesting to get someone else’s attention in order to make changes, students could actually pass the resolutions and ordinances they want to be implemented,” Hamilton said. “In other words, they could have a direct impact, with real results. No need to wait for the older generation to react too slowly to change … students could make those changes themselves.”
Tibor Nagy, a freshman business management major, agrees that students ought to be more engaged in local government because of the immediate impact it could have on their lives.
“If we feel that our government is not meeting our concerns, then the place to start is in local government,” Nagy said. “Here, we can make a bigger impact on our community by pushing for topics that matter to us.”
The date to file for candidacy in the upcoming April 10 City Council elections has passed, but university students still have an opportunity to significantly shape Newark governance if they register by March 19.
“Imagine the impact UD students could have on state and national politics as they start passing local legislation that could change the way things are done,” Hamilton said. “UD could set a precedent and help bring changes to other cities across the nation. And, once energized with a successful example of implementing change, young folks would have the blueprint to remain active to be able to bring those changes to other places as they relocate elsewhere after their school years.”