Students should vote on municipal electric utility issue

Forrest Stewart, Staff Writer

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On May 1, the citizens of Decorah will vote on whether to authorize city council to establish a municipal electric utility. Our current electricity distributor is an investor-owned utility, Alliant Energy, which strongly opposes municipalization. If the vote passes the city council will be authorized — though not required — to apply to the Iowa Utility Board (the state’s regulatory body for utilities) to buy the town’s electricity distribution infrastructure and form a municipal electric utility. The IUB would take over the services currently supplied by Alliant. The IUB will then consider the issue and decide what is in the best interest of the citizens. I encourage all students to become acquainted with this issue and decide for themselves what is best for Decorah. However, this letter has a separate yet related focus.

There are some members of the Decorah community who oppose Luther students’ right to participate in this election. First and foremost, I consider suggestions that voting rights be revoked for a certain sect of a community to be inherently anti-democratic and am disappointed that such rhetoric is being espoused in Decorah — a place I consider to be so forward-thinking and inclusive. While there need not be any response to these suggestions other than “all citizens of a town have the right to vote on local issues guaranteed to them by law,” I seek to address the specific reasoning that has been put forth since I have heard Luther students themselves echoing these sentiments as reasons why they think they should refrain from voting on the MEU issue.

I have heard some say that because students are not permanent residents of Decorah they should not have a say on issues that will affect the community after they graduate. However, this argument ignores the fact that while individual students may eventually leave Decorah, Luther’s student body is a permanent fixture in the Decorah community with considerable interest in the well-being of the town. While many current Luther students will not live in Decorah in another four years, there are thousands of future Luther students who will be affected by this vote. When we cast votes on local issues we are not only representing ourselves but also the entire student body of Luther — both present and future. I urge all Luther students to vote on May 1 in a way that they believe will strengthen both Luther and Decorah for the future. 

This argument that temporary residents shouldn’t vote also falls flat when one imagines the other groups of people who would be excluded under this logic. Elderly folks, those with terminal illnesses, and anyone who plans on moving elsewhere in the near future would also be excluded if we are consistent with this logic. Consider the ridiculousness of a suggestion that nursing home occupants should be barred from voting because of the possibility that they won’t be around to feel the direct effects of the election.

Finally, many Luther students choose to remain in Decorah for work after graduation and many others return years later to raise their family. Today over 1,000 Decorah residents are Luther alums.

Another complaint I have heard about Luther students voting is the perception that since we don’t pay electricity bills, we aren’t stakeholders in the issue at hand. While it is true that we don’t receive individual monthly bills from Alliant, students absolutely pay for electricity. Luther pays Alliant over $1 million each year for electricity and as a student at Luther $500 of your tuition each year is for electricity. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are not paying for electricity. You are.

College students are already severely underrepresented in American political discourse; less than half voted in the 2016 presidential election. Do not fall for anti-democratic rhetoric that seeks to further diminish our political voice. Vote on the MEU issue. You can vote on May 1 or on April weekdays at the courthouse. Transportation to the polls will be offered for all students on April 13 and April 27. Remember you must be registered in your current residence hall. Voter registration forms can be found online or at tables outside the cafeteria this week and next week.


Forrest Stewart (‘19)

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