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The Dartmouth
March 4, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Tobeck: Let’s Use Our Power to Impact Hanover

Participating in the Hanover town meeting gives us the chance to directly influence policy in our community.

Last year during the midterm election season, it was quite common to see posts on Instagram supporting various candidates or “I Voted” stickers all around campus. Everyone knows federal elections are important for governing the country. But we may not appreciate that we have an opportunity to influence the issues that are most salient to us as a campus community on a local level. Today at 7 p.m. Hanover residents will come together to debate and vote on the budget, town officers and other important local measures at the annual Hanover town meeting. All Dartmouth students who are able to vote in Hanover are eligible to participate in this meeting. We have the power to help shape the future of our college community — and we should use it.

Many students might not know what the Hanover town meeting is. To sum it up, it is a combination of an election and meeting event. The election part includes voting new officials into office and approving or rejecting various ballot measures, while the meeting includes authorizing the town budget and voting by raising hands on various other important issues. This type of meeting is unique in that it is an opportunity to practice direct democracy, where each eligible citizen can vote and decide on policies normally reserved for legislators. This means that the votes of students are worth just as much as anyone else who attends, regardless of whether or not they are an elected official or work for the town.

As young people, we are often written off for our perceived disinterest in the political process. It is true that historically, young people have not shown up to the polls as much as other generations. Perhaps this is due to a belief that the government doesn’t address the issues that are relevant to young people, so we  have no reason to engage with it. However, by not engaging, we cynically perpetuate a cycle of low participation by young people in the electoral process and leave decision-making power to those who may have other priorities. Things don’t have to be this way. When we make our voices heard — not just as young people, but as equal participants in our local democracy — we amplify our political power and force elected officials to pay attention to our priorities.

For example, a huge issue for Dartmouth students is the housing crisis we face on campus. I bet we all know someone who had to go through the extended process of being on the housing waiting list and face the looming stress of not knowing where they’ll live simply because there is not enough space for all of us here in the first place. This catastrophe has massive consequences for students.

This year, there are several measures that specifically deal with amending the Hanover zoning ordinance to expand housing opportunities and allow the construction of new development. That is why it is so critical that students participate in the town meeting this year to give our community the best chance it has to become more friendly to student housing. To find all of the information regarding these amendments and the various other policy issues that will be discussed, there is a prepared meeting report that outlines the themes of what is up for consideration.

Beyond these immediate policy issues, we also have the opportunity to fill two open seats on the town selectboard. These selectboard members serve as our voice when it comes to running the town. A critical component of our electoral system is not only making smart decisions about what kinds of policy we want, but who we want making decisions for us when we are not there. 

If you have the time and are registered to vote in Hanover, I urge you to go and make yourself part of our great political experiment. The Hanover town meeting will be held on Tuesday, May 9 at the Hanover High School gymnasium. From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., voting will take place on various zoning issues and for the open selectboard seats. The “business meeting,” where the rest of the other important measures are considered, will occur from 7 p.m. onward in person, with attendees able to vote on them. Only through our active participation in local politics will we see Hanover grow in the directions we want.

Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.