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Registration Efforts For Young Voters Intensify As Deadlines Loom

This story was written by Emily Schultheis and Lauren Callahan, UWIRE

"Are you registered to vote at your current address?"

For many college students across the country, hearing this question is a common part of campus life as student groups work hard to register voters before the approaching deadlines.

Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have voter registration deadlines on or before Friday, October 10th - which is less than two weeks away.

Though student groups on both ends of the political spectrum are more involved in this election than ever before, the emphasis on voter registration efforts seems to be largely on the part of the College Democrats and Students for Barack Obama.

Dan Reilly, a sophomore at Providence College who is involved with the College Republicans on campus, said that the group is involved in voter registration to a certain extent, but also pointed out that since college students tend to be overwhelmingly liberal, "generally getting people registered doesn't help our party."

The situation is similar at the University of Texas at Austin, where the University Democrats, as part of a major voter registration effort, initiated a movement to have all students in the dorms registered to vote. They took their case to the Department of Housing on campus, and were allowed unprecedented access to every resident.

"The University of Texas has never allowed voter registration cards to be distributed in the dorms," said Andy Jones, the communications director for University Democrats. "People who lived in the dorms went to the dorms they live in and put voter registration cards under doors, 'guerilla-style.' This was frowned on by the university. Yet this year, UT has allowed us to distribute 10,800 cards [one for every student who lives on campus] in the dorms."

Jones agreed with the assessment that, while Republicans are active on campus and care about registering students, the voter registration drive on the University of Texas at Austin has been all but dominated by Democrats.

"As far as the College Republicans are concerned, they do care about registering voters. Many in their organization are deputy voter registrars. We do not clash on this subject," Jones said. "The difference, however, is that the College Republicans have not advocated for registration cards in the dorms nor do they hold voter registration drives, rallies and events like we, the University Democrats, do that affect the community."

Despite this major push by student groups to register young voters on college campuses across the country, not all groups agree on the best place for students to register.

At the University of California, Davis, the College Democrats have placed their focus mainly on getting students to vote by mail rather than to vote at their current address on campus.

According to College Dems President and Don Gibson, this isn't necessarily an issue of strategy - it's more for the convenience of UC Davis students.

With vote by mail, students have "lots of chances to vote - 30 days, rather than one day," Gibson said. "You either forget about it [on Election Day], you have a midterm, have a paper - you'll be focusing on that rather than on voting."

At the University of Pennsylvania, however, the Penn Democrats and UPenn for Obama stress the importance of registering to vote on campus, both because it's easier than having to figure out each state's voting rules, and becausePennsylvania is one of several critical states that could very well determine the outcome of the election.

Penn Dems President Lauren Burdette said students should register to vote on Penn's campus "unless there's a state senate race or U.S. senate race you're really invested in."

Students are receiving the same message at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The state of Colorado is in serious play for the first time in years. Since both parties are campaigning hard in the state, College Democrats President Jesse Jensen said that voter registration has been concentrated on getting students to register in Colorado.

"We make sure that students understand how valuable their vote will be in Colorado in comparison to states whose races are all but locked up," Jensen said. "Beyond that, it's difficult to tell a student where you think they should vote. The one point we stress is that it's a personal choice."

"In Colorado, as long as you are living at that residence for 30 days prior to the election you are eligible to vote from that address," he added, noting that many new students would be eligible to register in Boulder.

And at George Washington University in the District of Columbia, where to register is really left up to each individual. The GW Democrats use a voter registration Web site,, to register students on campus.

The site, set up by the Obama campaign, has information about rules and deadlines for every state so that students can register either in D.C. or in their home state. When students stop by the GW Democrats' table on campus, they can use a computer set up at the table to register and ask questions.

Though the choice is ultimately up to each student, GW Democrats Membership Director Jessica Gordon said they are encouraged to register in their home states since D.C. is already "basically 120 million percent Democratic."

According to Gordon, GW's student groups aim to register 100 percent of eligible students on campus by the Oct. 6 deadline.

Students on both sides of the political aisle said, voting is the important thing, not where a student is registered.

"It doesn't matter to us where students vote," said Erica Pederson, communications director for the Young Democrats at Arizona State University. "Although we do try to push students voting in Arizona because then they can vote for our local candidates, we are just encouraging them to vote, period."

The huge push for voter registration this fall means increased participation - but also an increased chance that issues will arise.

Political organizations on campus are keeping their eyes open for allegations of fraud or complications that could occur in the final days and weeks of registration.

As they push to register as many students as possible before each individual deadline, these students are finding current registration policies that could be improved for the next cycle.

"The process doesn't exist in a format that is conducive to the lives of our newest generation," Jensen said. "I think it is laughable that online voter registration doesn't exist in Colorado. We need to follow the examples of states like Washington to allow students the ability to participate in the political process."

Emily Schultheis is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. She covered the presidential primaries as a freshman for her campus newspaper, the Daily Pennylvanian. Emily is originally from Moraga, Calif., a small town in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Lauren Callahan recently graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with degrees in political communication and English. While at Texas, she served as the publisher of burntORANGE magazine, the official student magazine of the University of Texas.