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ISSUE 118 VOL 3 PUBLISHED 10/1/2004

Push for young voters

By Tiffany Ayres
News Editor

Friday, October 1, 2004

Recent press releases from national college election campaign organizations have issued conflicting stances on the importance of the vote from the 18-24 year-old age group in the 2004 presidential election. National surveys show that while a substantial number of eligible 18-24 year olds are registered, a low percentage of them have expressed an intention to vote in the upcoming election.

Such claims, however bleak, are not far from the truth. National statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau from the 2000 general presidential election show 50 percent registration and 36.1 percent turnout for 18-24 year-olds. The 2002 midterm congressional election results show even lower numbers, with 43 percent registration and 19 percent voter turnout.

"I think thats wrong, said Don Ostrom, visiting professor in the political science department. Its true that the 18-24 age group is less likely to vote, but college students are more likely to vote."

In his election-themed course this semester, Parties and Elections, Ostrom often brings up a personal example where an election outcome was ultimately decided by the college student vote.

"I lived for 31 years in St. Peter and I ran for state legislature four consecutive terms, Ostrom said. Three out of four races were close and it was the votes from Gustavus that made the difference.

Recent election history shows that close races do happen such as the 2000 race. Ostrom said that the 2002 Minnesota House of Representatives race was close as well, with a winning margin of only 44 votes.

Ostrom offered several explanations for why 18-24 year-old voter turnout continues to be the lowest compared to other age groups. In comparison, the 65+ age group shows the most turnout, with 72 percent. Ostrom noted that younger people tend to move around more frequently, are not as tied to communities and may not be familiar with the candidates.

Also, most 18-24 year-olds do not have children in the school system yet, so they may not feel that some policies will affect them. Ostrom also noted that voting is a habitual practice, and 18-24 year olds have not been eligible to vote long enough for a voting habit to form.

National voter turnout in 2000 was roughly 59 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This indicates voter turnout was low nationally, which is also a factor in the low 18-24 year-old vote. Studies dating back to 1972, when the voting age was lowered to 18, show a gradually decreasing turnout rate for national elections.

Numerous studies in the last few decades indicate that education is directly tied to voting and voter turnout. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that over 75 percent of college graduates vote.

People who have graduated from college or who have some college education are just more likely to vote," Ostrom said.

Before 2002, when the first election after Northfield redistricting called for an on-campus polling site in Buntrock Commons, St. Olaf students had to vote at sites in town off campus. Because the city is not responsible for in-depth election result analysis, separate results for on-campus voter turnout are not available for the 2000 election.

However, the 2002 midterm election data show St. Olaf turnout was above the national average. Out of 2,755 registered voters for the campus district (excluding residents of Hilleboe-Kittelsby), election officials counted 1,196 votes, equaling approximately 43 percent voter turnout.

Mary Grant, Northfield City Clerk, also pointed out that voter turnout statistics do not account for absentee ballots. Since many students chose the absentee option for 2002, actual voter turnout may have been slightly higher.

The on-campus voter turnout is still close to the overall Minnesota 2002 midterm election turnout. In 2002, 61.49 percent of eligible voters voted in the congressional election.

The Minnesota Secretary of States office reports that in the last presidential election, Minnesota actually ranked first in the nation for highest turnout with 69.4 percent of the eligible voting age population in the state voting.

Aware of registration and voting trends, campus political organizations are focusing a lot of time on registering.

Katie Rusch 05 a member of the St. Olaf chapter of College Republicans, said the organization has made an effort to register more voters and help students apply for absentee ballots on campus through their registration drive.

"We all feel like its important to get out and vote, Rusch said. It is important, as we saw in the last election, and its the most basic civic duty.

The St. Olaf chapter of College Democrats has also been working on voter registration and will be starting a room-to-room drive to register more voters, beginning with first- year halls.

"Its extremely important to not only register but to get out and vote to voice your opinion no matter if youre leaning one way or the other," Meagan Crary 05 a member of the College Democrats said.

Both organizations stress the importance of registering and voting and have increased their tabling operations outside of Stav Hall during meal times.

The student organizations are involved in other ways as well. The College Republicans have members driving up to the Twin Cities to help with the campaigns, and the College Democrats are involved in phone-booth campaigning in the Northfield area as well as hosting debate-watching parties in Viking Theater.

In response to speculation concerning high registration but low turnout for the 18-24 year-old age group in the upcoming election, Crary agreed with Ostrom.

"Mostly all of us are first-time voters, so we dont show up in existing surveys," Crary said. "A lot of people have indicated they will vote this time because they feel strongly about the issues and recognize it is an important election. Our age group could have a surprising effect; we really can make a difference."

The College Republicans and College Democrats both have strong campus-wide membership, at approximately 400 and 500 members, respectively. Rusch and Crary reported large student attendance at their organization meetings this year compared to the 2002 election season attendance. The organizations also reported high levels of student excitement for participation in the election. Many students wish to help at the polling site on campus, especially first years and sophomores.

"If candidates and parties are thinking we wont vote, theyre grossly mistaken," Rusch said. "From what Ive seen on this campus and on others, the younger vote has been highly emphasized and people our age are taking it more seriously because of the events of the past four years."

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