Three-student ordinance pushes students to vote

During the 2022 midterm elections, there was a significant increase in student voter registration in the town of Narragansett. Graphic by: Elizabeth Wong

Before the midterm elections this year, a number of University of Rhode Island officials urged students who lived off-campus to register to vote in the towns they live in during the school year.

The election results were especially important in this year’s race because of the ongoing controversy surrounding the three-student rental ordinance in Narragansett, which was passed by the Narragansett Town Council and was struck down by a judge in November for not following protocol.

A number of Narragansett residents expressed concerns about the University pushing for students living in the town to register to vote, claiming that this push was aimed at students in Narragansett specifically, not including other nearby towns such as South Kingstown, to change the rental ordinance according to a post in the “Our Town Narragansett: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly” Facebook group.

The post referenced an email sent out by Stephen Simo, assistant dean of students for Greek Life, to all off-campus students in Greek Life living in Narragansett.

According to the post, more than 200 URI students registered to vote in Narragansett between Sept. 25 and Oct. 9, while only 12 URI students registered to vote in South Kingstown between Sept. 9 and Oct. 9. This information was not attributed, so the Cigar can’t confirm whether this is true.

The post also expressed a differing opinion of what they thought the intention of pushing students to vote was.

“Registering students [to] vote so they can exercise their right to vote is a far cry from what you have done,” the resident who posted the post wrote. “You have ‘engaged’ only URI students to register to vote in Narragansett in an attempt to manipulate the outcome of a local election.”

Narragansett councilwoman Susan Cicilline Buonanno, who previously said that she would support raising the number of students in Narragansett housing to four and initially voted against the ordinance, said that she thinks students should be part of the voting process in the community they live in for a majority of the year.

“I feel very strongly that everybody should be voting,” Buonanno said. “If they’re 18 or older, it’s their responsibility. If they live in a community, they should be engaged. They should be learning about the issues that are important to the community, or to the state or to the country and cast their vote.”

Buonanno also mentioned that the increased student voter turnout could be because of the student rental ordinance but because the students are engaged and directly impacted by the issue.

“I think that people come out generally when they’re passionate about a particular issue,” Buonanno said. “So the three-student ordinance has been a particularly interesting ordinance to the entire community, people of my age as well as students.”

Grace Summerson, the chair of the Student Senate’s off-campus committee and academic affairs committee, said she thinks young, eligible voters shouldn’t be discouraged from registering to vote no matter where they live.

“Wherever you spend the most of your time residing in, I think that’s where you should be able to have fair and equitable representation,” Summerson said. “So if a student feels as if they are part of their Rhode Island community more than their hometown community, whether it be in Massachusetts, or it’s across the country, or it’s in a different country, I think as long as they’re able to register to vote, they should be encouraged to do so.”

Summerson also said that although some students don’t live in the town in the summer months, the other three quarters of the year, they are feeding the local economy in those communities.

“There’s a lot of people that come to Narragansett and the subsequent communities around it in the summertime, but the reason that a lot of local restaurants and businesses stay afloat the rest of the year is because of URI students,” Summerson said.

Both she and Buonanno agreed that college students should continue registering to vote and going to the polls despite any pushback because it’s foundational in determining how your local, state and national government treats you.

“The way we run our government is important to everybody,” Buonanno said. “It’s not just [important] during the election season. It’s important just to be engaged and to have a voice and to pay attention. So I would encourage all the young people that are residents of Narragansett to continue to be engaged and informed on the issues because it matters.”