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Get Out and Vote!

This is the first editorial of a two-part series on the Cambridge City Council elections. The second installment will feature The Tech’s candidate endorsement.

Want more out of the Cambridge government? Well, you have only five days left to do something about it because Wednesday is the deadline to register to vote in the upcoming Cambridge City Council elections. And if you live in Cambridge, even as a student, then you have a stake in them.

The Cambridge City Council deals with issues that affect not only businesses and corporations like MIT, but individuals; that means students, renters, bikers, and even fraternity members. The council, made up of just nine members of the Cambridge community, is responsible for setting policies, ordinances, taxes, and other expenditures that affect your life here in the city.

The City Council is responsible for the ban on smoking in all Cambridge workplaces, including bars and restaurants, and a March 2002 petition to the state to give 17-year-olds the right to vote in local elections. It has also passed legislation on rents, evictions, and zoning to help control residential rents in the city. In addition, they appoint the members of the Cambridge License Commission, with which many students are all too familiar.

Another key issue relevant to this community is the payment made in lieu of taxes to the city. As a non-profit institution, MIT is not required to pay property taxes, though both MIT and Harvard have been making these payments largely in compensation both for the benevolent use of existing land; but also for the recent acquisition by both universities of new property that will lower Cambridge’s tax income by a significant margin. These payments are agreed upon by negotiation with the city; it is important to have officials sympathetic to MIT on both sides of the bargaining table.

The councilors you elect in November will be deciding on new issues such as bicycle ordinances, limiting parking time on Memorial Drive, and resolving what they have termed the “housing emergency” in Cambridge. All of these issues have extreme relevance to MIT students and community members.

Registering to vote in Cambridge is not only easy, it costs you very little in terms of your voting rights at home. You only need re-register in your home state following the upcoming election. Massachusetts Voter Registration forms are available in the Public Service Center (4-104), the Office of Government and Community Relations (11-245), and in many dormitories. Fill it out and send it in before Oct. 15, and you will be eligible for the Nov. 4 election. Then just fill out and send in a National Voter Registration form (available at to re-register in your home state. Some candidates are currently running voter registration drives; for instance, MIT alum Matt DeBergalis ’00 will provide and mail both forms for you through his campaign.

Even if you live on Amherst Street, the City Council can have a major impact on your life. This election is one where even a small group can be very influential. It only takes about 1,800 votes to elect a councilor; compare that to any state or national election you might vote in. Given the ease of registration and the weight of the issues at hand, there is no good reason not to get up and register right away.