Blacksburg’s youth must vote

The following letter to the editor originally appeared in the Collegiate Times on Aug. 27, 2009:

In past elections, most candidates for Blacksburg Town Council did little to court the votes of students and young professionals.

They declined to knock on doors in student neighborhoods or mail campaign literature to campus addresses. And they had good reason. Many students are registered to vote in their hometowns instead of in Blacksburg. Others skipped the May election to study for finals or pack for the summer.

But that has all changed. With the election in November for the first time, Blacksburg voters will pick their local and state leaders on the same ballot this year. Virginia Tech students, who increased the county’s voter registration list by more than 7,000 last year and flexed their political muscle in the 2008 presidential election, have the power to determine who does and does not get a seat on the town council.

The town counts Tech students, whether they live on or off campus, as a part of Blacksburg’s population to compete for state and federal resources. These students pay the meals tax when they eat off campus, fund a large portion of the Blacksburg Transit with a student fee, and use the town’s services and resources en masse. Through numerous service organizations and activities like the Big Event, they spend thousands of volunteer hours improving Blacksburg and its neighborhoods. Our local representatives must understand that the body politic includes the student body.

Likewise, a growing number of young professionals, like myself, are staying in town after graduation. Others are moving to the area to live, work and raise a family. Whatever the case, young professionals have the potential to reshape the local and regional economy with their talents and creativity. The town and its leaders must work hard to attract and retain this emerging demographic.

If the Blacksburg Town Council wants an effective local government that meets the needs of all citizens, it must take a proactive approach to reaching students and young professionals. It must increase their representation on council-appointed boards and committees, and it must turn past attempts to unite the campus and town into a comprehensive effort that engages everyone in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect.

The biggest issues in Blacksburg affect all of us. We would all benefit from a vibrant downtown, economic growth that protects our natural and built environments, improved public and alternative transportation, and an open and accountable government. The town council must engage all citizens, whether they live here for four years or their whole lives, because we all make Blacksburg “a special place.”

Michael Sutphin
Blacksburg Town Council Candidate
alumni, communication ’06

Reprinted with permission.

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