A redistricting plan adopted by the College Park City Council last week should give students at the University of Maryland "a good opportunity" to control two seats on the council, according to student government president Michael Canning.
Members of the College Park City Council are elected from eight single-member districts, and three of those new districts are in the area of the university and have heavy student populations.
The redistricting is being based on the number of registered voters rather than census population as the result of a Maryland Court of Appeals order last summer that ended an eight-year-old student lawsuit against the city.
A record 666 University of Maryland students registered to vote last spring when the redistricting process began. Nearly 90 percent of the students who registered live in the fraternity and sorority houses on the eastern edge of the campus.
Although the fraternity and sorority members are heavily concentrated in two of the new election districts, they are slightly outnumbered by the permanent residents who have registered to vote.
Canning said the Student Government Association, which he heads, will begin a new voter registration drive Wednesday when fall classes begin in hope of increasing student voter strength.
"We haven't even begun to reach our potential," Canning said. He also confirmed he will be a candidate for City Council in November's election.
But whether Canning, 21, will be eligible to run is still in doubt. The council amended College Park's charter in July to lower the qualifying age from 25 to 21.
But council member John Perry and other citizens have begun a petition drive to place an amendment on the ballot in November to change the qualifying age back to 25.
Under the city charter, the signatures of 20 percent of College Park's registered voters are required to petition a charter change to public referendum.
With 4,159 registered voters in the city, Perry will need to collect at least 832 signatures by Sept. 4. Perry said that approximately 800 signatures have been collected.
If the age change amendment is placed on the ballot this year, no one under the age of 25 will be eligible to run for City Council.
Perry said the purpose of the petition drive is not to deny students the right to run for office, but to give city residents the chance to decide the issue.
Canning said that if the petition drive is successful, the student government will attempt to block the referendum in federal court.