Crafting a Youth 'Voter Culture'

Early precinct tallies collected by two voter mobilization groups showed increased turnout among young voters from the last mid-term election in 2002, with anecdotal reports from across the nation bolstering the early findings.

November 8, 2006

Early precinct tallies collected by two voter mobilization groups showed increased turnout among young voters from the last mid-term election in 2002, with anecdotal reports from across the nation bolstering the early findings.

The Student Public Interest Research Groups, a nonpartisan coalition of state-based organizations that sponsors the New Voters Project, released numbers in the late afternoon Tuesday showing that turnout at several on-campus polling places in Maryland, Michigan and Ohio had already exceeded total turnout in 2002. Data from 6 p.m., released later in the day but still several hours before polls closed, showed the trend continuing at an increased number of campuses in the three states, in addition to Colorado.

Meanwhile, Hans Riemer, political director of Rock the Vote, also a nonpartisan effort, said early numbers and anecdotal evidence suggested that young voters, aged 18 to 29, were on track by the end of the day to exceed voter participation from four years ago.

“There are long lines, a lot of excited young people, a lot of people voting for the first time.... We think this is going to be a real significant increase in turnout from 2002,” Riemer said.

On college campuses, student activists engaged in voter mobilization efforts aimed at making voting a social as well as a civic experience, to “create a voter culture,” explained Sarah Clader, a junior and campaign coordinator for the New Voters Project at Rutgers University, where students were encouraged to flip open their cell phones to remind five friends to vote. “It’s a peer to peer voter mobilization effort,” said Clader.

“The whole idea is that it’s the peer to peer contacts that get people to go out to the polls to vote -- when their friends or their fellow students tell them, that’s what makes the difference," she said.

At the University of Colorado at Denver, “a party at the polls” featuring local bands was staged in front of a campus polling station -- though the legal distance away, said Lindsey Gavioli, a senior and state board chair for the Student Public Interest Research Groups. “There’s a big party going on out front to encourage students to get to the polls and become more excited and engaged about getting to the election; we’re part of the Denver community as well,” Gavioli said.

“Adding a social element to the election” is crucial to encouraging civic participation in young voters, said Daniel Shea, director of the Center for Political Participation at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, where students could munch on pizza while watching a broadcast of the election results on a large-screen television last night. “We’re trying to tell young folks on campus that being involved in electoral politics can be fun, that this is for their generation. We can roll up our sleeves and dive into the political trenches and also have a good time.”

Observers reported a couple of glitches at polling places on or around campuses as issues of concern Tuesday. Mary McClelland, national field coordinator for the nonpartisan Young Voters Strategies, said some Ohio State University students were told to cast provisional ballots, and others were turned away entirely, because of confusion on the part of election workers about identification requirements. The situation was solved, McClelland said, after a lawyer called by the group arrived around 10:30 a.m., though she speculated that dozens of students had probably been affected prior to that time.

In Colorado, Riemer said there were some problems with the voting machines, and while there were long lines at lots of locations, Riemer said they weren’t an inhibiting factor as they were in some cases in 2004:  “Right now it just seems they’re an indicator of a healthy turnout.”

Among the other Election Day action happening at campuses across the country:

  • At Elon University, in North Carolina, students, faculty and staff participated in an online election, casting their (mock) votes on hot ballot initiatives from across the states, including Virginia’s gay marriage amendment, Ohio’s proposed tobacco ban and the abortion ban in South Dakota, said Daniel J. Anderson, an Elon spokesman. The results can be found online.
  • At Hendrix College, in Arkansas, which has a polling place on the campus after students successfully organized for one in 2004, college students heading to the site could vote for one of their classmates for statewide office: Brock Carpenter, a senior, was the Arkansas Green Party candidate for state treasurer, said Judy Williams, a college spokeswoman.
  • Local races – for positions as judge/executive, mayor, county clerk, county attorney and sheriff -- attracted the most attention at Kentucky's Lindsey Wilson College, where many residential students went home for the day so they could vote in their home counties, said Duane Bonifer, a college spokeswoman.  “I know it might seem a bit strange for local elections to mean a lot,” Bonifer wrote in an e-mail. “But this is rural Kentucky, where local elections often mean jobs for families.”
  • On a similar note, at the College of the Holy Cross, in Massachusetts, Republican and Democratic students teamed up to organize an absentee voter drive, said Ellen Ryder, a college spokeswoman.
  • And in addition to asking New Jersey students to burn their cell phone minutes for the good of democracy and throwing a party outside the polls in Denver, volunteers with the New Voters Project sponsored a number of other get-out-the-vote events on 80 campuses in 15 states. Students drove classmates to the polling places in golf carts decorated in red, white and blue at Arizona State University. Students at the Los Angeles Community College District had plans to remind 20,000 people to head to the polls by the end of the day,  and at the University of Rhode Island, students sponsored “X-Games at the Polls." Voters planned to skateboard, cycle and race down a steep hill to the polling place.


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