Student Voting Could Sway Elections

This story was written by Sarah-dale Simpkins, The Reflector
Despite Mississippi's presidential primary coming up on March 11, many Mississippi State University students have not registered to vote. They will forego their right to vote in the primary if they do not register by Sunday.

"Eighteen to 21-year-olds as a group tend to have a pretty low turnout rate compared to other age groups throughout the country," MSU political science department head David Breaux said. "As a democracy, it's important for people to vote and get their opinion out there."

Breaux said the main reason college-age students do not feel voting is important is because they feel they are not as affected by political decisions as older members of society.

"They don't feel like they have a stake in society yet," he said. "They haven't reached that point where they feel they have an investment in a job, house or career and they get busy with other things like school or social activities."

Marty Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute of Government, said Congress passed a constitutional amendment in 1971 that lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.

He said it all started during the Vietnam War when the draft was enacted. Young soldiers felt that if they were old enough to go to war and fight for their country, they deserved to be involved in choosing its leader, Wiseman said.

"Back when we had the draft and other things that affected college students directly, it was college students that marched in the streets and brought an end to the Vietnam War, simply because of their political activism," he said.

Wiseman said everybody knows about the energy college students bring to politics, but they've learned to count on them not voting.

"If college students ever started voting, it would turn the political world upside down in a big way," he said.

Junior communication major Kalea Henry, the reigning Miss Magnolia State, has dedicated her title to promoting registration and voting among young adults.

"One way we have tried promoting voter turnout by the younger crowd is by going into area schools and registering high school seniors who otherwise might not have taken the time to do so on their own," she said.

She said one of the reasons many young, eligible citizens do not exercise their right to vote is because they do not realize the impact one vote can have on their community.

"I think young voters need to feel like they can make a change. At a young age, it's important to become aware of community and local affairs," Henry said. "If one isn't involved or at least familiar with how our country's political system works, then [he or she] won't become engaged in the process until they are directly affected by the problems at hand."

Henry said the distraction of student life and politicians not directing their attention to student voters affects the turnout.

"It is a privilege for us to live in a country where we have the right to determine who we feel will best serve our community, state and country," she said. "However, many times, we get very busy in our own lives and don't take the time to learn about the candidates running for office nor do we take the time to go to polls and cast our votes."

One example indicates why students should vote: They pay a large portion of the two percent food and beverage tax in Starkville.

Wiseman said by not voting, students forfeit their representation.

"Mississippi State students in particular need to be registered and involved because for the past two terms they have elected a member to the Board of Aldermen, and all the students who have done that have moved on from Ward Four (the Cotton District), and now it's largely a student ward with no registered voters in it," he aid.

Wiseman said students registering to vote need to be 18 years of age, U.S. citizens and Mississippi residents. Those eligible can register at the courthouse downtown.
© 2008 The Reflector via U-WIRE