On November 4, Americans did not just elect their fifth-youngest president; In Grafton County, N.H., a junior at Dartmouth College defeated a three-term county treasurer. At 20 years old, Vanessa Sievers may be the United States youngest county treasurer in over 130 years, and her election sets an example for participation in local politics, and for college students particularly.
Its too often assumed that age is a prerequisite for getting involved in politics. But as history shows, older candidates arent necessarily the most qualified. Nor are they the most likely to win. In 1818, one John Henry Eaton was accidentally sworn into the Senate at 28 years of age; and in 1935, Rush Holt waited six months into the Senate session before being old enough to enter. There are more recent examples in local politics: In 2005, a high school senior was elected mayor of a town of 9,000. The same year, two University of Pennsylvania students were elected mayors of small towns outside Pittsburgh. Sievers, for her part, not only attained a county position but also gathered an impressive 21,000 votes.
Sieverss opponentwho was ousted after three consecutive termswas quick to declare that brainwashed college kids had elected a teenybopper for a treasurer. But there was more to Sieverss candidacy. Despite her youth, Sievers claims numerous qualifications, having served as a bookkeeper and treasurer for several businesses and college organizations, and having served in Montana local government. That experience will serve her well in managing Grafton Countys $18 million in investments.
Sieverss election marks an inspiring moment in local politics in that she brings refreshing diversity to a county position and sets an example for future municipal and local elections. It also vindicates the use of new media in local politics, as Sieverss largest campaign expense was a $51 Facebook ad. In another sense, her election is an inspiration for college students to stay involved in politics and civic service, even beyond the general election by campaigning, volunteering, or even running for office.
In local politics especially, participation matters. Sievers election brings much-needed attention to state and local races after months of focus on the presidential campaign. We too often forget that counties administer vital services and institutions: schools, libraries, parks, water and waste facilities, roads and transit systems, and even elections themselves. That these services directly impact citizens lives is all the more reason to hold local officials accountable. If nothing else, the enthusiasmor the resentmentat having a college student in county politics ought to bring out the vote in Grafton County in 2010.