Lawyer and Galesburg City Council member Jeremy Karlin has been challenging the current incumbent John Pepmeyer for Knox County State’s Attorney since last July. On Tuesday, March 15, registered voters will decide the race. This includes student voters from Knox College. Although students tend to vote in their hometown elections, both candidates encourage students to register in Knox County.
“If Knox students as a group wish to register in Knox County and voted in Knox County, they could elect the next mayor, at least one to two alderman, and as well as my election,” Karlin said.
However, only 152 out of the 785 registered voters in Precinct 13 are Knox students, according to data obtained from the Galesburg Election Commission.
Karlin knows the importance of student political participation first-hand. When he attended Syracuse University, the political science and peace studies double major’s education revolved around non-violent political change. As a student, Karlin also volunteered for former New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s campaign.
Pepmeyer’s interest in government also began in college. As an undergraduate at Illinois Wesleyan University, he interned in Washington D.C. and gained hands-on experience with the political process. He calls it the best summer of his life.
Both candidates foster ties with the Knox community. Pepmeyer’s relationship with Knox dates back to 1976. He cited his lasting relationship with Professor of Political Science Lane Sunderland and their informal intern program for pre-law students. In addition to advising students on acceptance to law school, Pepmeyer hosts them for Sunday night dinners with his wife.
Karlin, meanwhile, has worked to register students from outside of Knox County, starting with Knox’s freshman orientation. At the beginning of this year’s Fall Term, Karlin came to campus to speak to Knox Democrats. He also involves himself in the community by attending the Rootabaga Jazz Festival during Spring Term and playing ultimate frisbee here.
The candidates also argue that if students disagree with Knox County’s local issues, they need to speak with their votes.
“Students need to be fully informed on the issues and vote accordingly because it is everyone’s personal responsibility,” Pepmeyer said.
President of Knox Democrats sophomore Philip Shelly encourages voter registration in Galesburg, too. Since the town has a small population and students reside here for most of the year, he believes they should strongly influence their second home.
Even though the term ends on March 13, students can vote early before leaving campus. To do so, students can visit the Knox County courthouse to vote in person. According to the early voting schedule, the voting period began on Feb. 4 and runs through March 14 during regular office hours.
Shelly noted that political participation involves more than Internet activism.
“There’s É this notion that social media activism is enough, so we have people tweeting and Instagramming and thinking that they are participating, when in reality they’re having little to no impact,” he said.
In addition to voting, Knox students can also register other voters, he explained. They can become involved with advocacy groups and encourage their peers to take part in the democratic process.