Geneseo’s upcoming local election has prompted candidates and the Geneseo Task Force on Voter Engagement to direct their attention toward the student population’s vote.
The candidates visited Geneseo on Wednesday Oct. 25 for a forum sponsored by the college and the Livingston County News.
There are six candidates in the running for the town council, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Professor of mathematics Anthony Macula, Director of the Teresa House Leah Fletcher and political science major senior Wesley Ebersole are running for positions on the Geneseo Town Council as Democrats. Current Geneseo Town Councilwoman Patti LaVigne, Groveland Town Code Officer Ron Maxwell and Livingston County Deputy County Clerk Andrea Bailey are running as Republicans.
The Geneseo Town Council has three out of five seats up for election. Two of the positions are for four years and the third is for two years, due to the resignation of a seat halfway through a councilman’s term.
“I’d like to change the way we interface with employees and departments. I’m a little bit excited about this next board coming in independent of who comes in,” LaVigne said. “I think there’s a variety of talents and different approaches to coming and doing things and I’m hoping it’ll be a more collaborative environment.”
In regard to issues that impact the local community, the role of student involvement has held considerable weight, according to LaVigne.
There are currently 5,000 registered voters in the local Village area, and nearly one-third of them are comprised of students, according to Macula.
The increased student involvement in issues affecting the local area has advanced through the participation in this election cycle of Ebersole. Ebersole is running for the two-year position on the town board as a Democratic Party member.
The reason for Ebersole’s candidacy comes as a result of his long-term residency in the region, specifically in the town of Caledonia, 20 minutes outside of Geneseo, Ebersole said.
“Geneseo was a second home for me as I grew up and now since I’ve moved here to college,” Ebersole said. “I’ve been here for three years. I’ve really felt a part of the community and I really want a chance to give back.”
The installment of an on-campus polling station last year at the Kuhl Gym came after a greater number of students voted, and this year the installation became a permanent polling station, according to Associate Dean of Leadership and Service and Geneseo Opportunities for Leadership Development Founder Tom Matthews.
In the 2012 presidential election, student voter turnout for Geneseo was 43 percent, with 2014 midterm elections bringing in about 6 percent of student voters, according to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement Report.
These figures led to the creation of the Geneseo Task Force on Voter Engagement, according to Matthews. As a result of other on-campus initiatives to promote a larger student voter turnout, there was an increase in registration rates, voting rates of registered students and voting rates for enrolled students, according to the Geneseo website.
Between the 2012 presidential election and the 2016 election, voter turnout increased by a little less than 10 percent. Students who voted increased from 42.6 percent of 5,350 enrolled students in 2012 to 53.6 percent of 5,553 students in 2016.
“We have 1,400 students who are registered in district five, which is the campus polling site,” Matthews said. “With those numbers, we’re good, and I think we’ll keep that polling site.”
Beyond the six candidates running for Town Council, there are six Republican candidates running unopposed for positions such as Justice of the Supreme Court for the 7th Judicial District, Livingston County Sheriff, Livingston County Treasurer, Livingston County Corner and Geneseo Town Justice.
At the college’s recent meet and greet forum, members of the campus community and local residents interacted with the six candidates for town council, who answered questions posed by the public in a panel.
The conversation centered around a variety of topics, from the environment, to agriculture and also around the migrant communities. Dialogue was generated regarding what steps the candidates believed should be taken to further the relationship between the college students and the Town.
“We love the students and they do a lot for us,” Democratic candidate Fletcher said. Fletcher promoted the idea of “meet and greets” between residents and the college students, pushing for dialogue.
“One of the things that I found this campaign season is that there really are a lot of initiatives taking place by SUNY,” LaVigne said, adding “one of the things that we need to do is talk about how SUNY supports us, how SUNY is boosting our economy.”
Candidates generally agreed that the college students are beneficial toward helping the local community, and are an “untapped resource” according to Republican candidate Ron Maxwell.
Many of the Town Council candidates emphasized the relationship between the college, the Village of Geneseo and the Town of Geneseo as a top priority.
“I feel that my primary purpose … being there on the ballot and being elected, would be to build that cooperation between the Town and the college,” Ebersole said. “In all honesty their goals for the area—economic vitality and a wonderful place to live—are really one and the same.”
News editor Malachy Dempsey contributed reporting to this article.