Youth Vote Could Tip A Nevada County

This story was written by Jessica Estepa and Jessica Fryman,
Outside of the Joe Crowley Student Union, Brian Parcon is one of the volunteers repeating one question:

Have you voted yet?

The 18-year-old political science major knows historically, young voters dont turn out to vote. He knows the pundits predict apathy from his age group.

But he thinks theyre wrong.

This is a historical year, Parcon said. People are going to tell their grandchildren that they voted in this election, that they made a difference.

The political scale in Washoe County has been a toss-up in recent weeks. Some polls show Nevadans favoring a different candidate every day. Washoes status as a swing county in a swing state means a lot for Nevada voters. In 2000, if Nevada had swung blue, Al Gore would have been elected president.

Young voters can decide which way Washoe County and Nevada tip, political scientists and campaign representatives said.

In Washoe County alone, 26,478 youth voters are registeredalmost 20,000 more than President Bushs victory margin in 2004.

Of the Washoe County 18-to 24-year-old registered voters this year, 10,906 are registered Democrats and 7,351 are registered Republicans both large enough groups that could have swayed the 2004 election.

Generally when its close, young voters make a difference, said Kenneth Fernandez, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Eric Herzik, chair of the University of Nevada, Renos political science department, said many factors go into what tips a state and that any large, cohesive group could swing the election.

You cant say the youth vote will determine this, Herzik said. Its far more complex than any one group tipping an election. In a close race, any significant block could tip it.

According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), almost 20,000 young voters in Nevada turned out for the caucuses in January, more than double the amount of total voters who took part in Nevadas primaries in 2004.

Many of those voters caucused for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, according to CIRCLE. Fernandez credits Sen. Obama with the rise in youth interest.

Young people could make the difference in this election, said Kristen Searer, a representative for the Obama campaign. The youth vote is critically important in winning Nevada. He cant win without it. The campaign has targeted young voters.

The Obama campaign dedicated a worker to each Nevada university to bolster its efforts with the youth vote, campaign representatives said.

Obama has made a further concentrated effort for the youth vote in Washoe hes spoken twice at UNR in the last month.

A lot of people think that if Sen. Obama wins Washoe, he can win the state, Searer said.

Rick Gorka, a spokesman for Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, said McCains campaign is also aiming to bring young voters out to the polls.

Were going to have to wait for the Nov. 4 analysis to see how it all turns out, but were obviously actively courting the youth vote, said Gorka, who works for McCains Nevada campaign.

Herzik said the youth wont make a difference if they dont vote, because the block wont be large enough to matter.

The youth vote in Nevada could be very important if it shows up, he said. The youth vote has been underrepresented in past elections. If that turns around and is disproportionately for one candidate or another and the race is close, yes, it could swing the election.

Jessica Fryman and Jessica Estepa can be reached at editor@nevaasagebrush.com.
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