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Shadan Kapri/MEDILL

NU Votes gets new voters registered for the upcoming elections at Northwestern University's campus. 

Northwestern University combats election apathy in the 9th District

by Shadan Kapri
Oct 04, 2012

As the presidential campaigns gain momentum, some residents of Illinois's 9th Congressional District think local politics have become an afterthought.

Lifelong Evanston resident Alisa Pointer says local politics has no impact on her life.  "So why should I spend my time thinking about it?" she said.  The mother of five has little interest to follow “the failed promises” of local politicians, Republican or Democrat. 

Pointer, one of more than a dozen district residents interviewed, is so disengaged from local elections that she is not interested in learning the names of incumbent U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Chicago) or her Republican opponent Tim Wolfe from Arlington Heights. 

Hair stylist Pointer talks with dozens of clients every month, who say they are increasingly disconnected from the congressional race.

An analysis of the Illinois State Board of Elections statistics for the 9th District showed that voter turnout decreased by approximately 66,000 in 2010 as compared to 2008.

In 2012, the U.S Census Bureau revealed that voter turnout in congressional races decreased statewide.  In 2008, 54.3 percent of Illinois residents voted in their congressional race.  However, by 2010 that number fell to 38.1 percent of voters casting ballots. 

Evanston resident Orel Stoby is not surprised by the lower voter turnout.  The 20-year-old said that apathy is common because younger voters don’t have “a stake in the outcome of the local election.”  He said that voters such as his parents are more interested because they have a business that is "directly impacted by the decision of local politicans."    

“Younger people are more interested in establishing their careers and their future then listening to local politicians,” said Stoby, an employee at L.A. Fitness. 

Yet initiatives like NU Votes, a voter registration effort at Northwestern University's campus, are trying to change that.  NU Votes held an all-day voter registration drive on Wednesday to combat the problem and help younger voters register. The non-partisan program provided voter registration booths in three different locations on Northwestern’s Evanston campus along with volunteers to answer questions. 

Swarms of Northwestern students, staff and alumni flocked to booths to fill out the voter registration forms.  Northwestern staff member, Cassandra McNeal, 42, said the convenience of these programs help people vote in the upcoming elections. 

"Every time I wanted to change my voter registration address, the Clerk's Office would be closed," McNeal said.  She was able to change her address at one of the booths.  These programs are vital for higher voter turnout, she said.