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Young Voters Get Out To The Polls

This story was written by Benjamin R. Schilter, The State Hornet

(UWIRE) -- In selecting the 44th President of the United States, young voters have taken interest in the political process in great numbers.

Forty-seven percent of voters were between the ages of 18 and 44, according to national exit polls. In California, young voters made up 48 percent of the electorate. Across the board, however, voting numbers have also been high.

The Associated Press estimated that more than 124 million votes were cast in this election, surpassing the 121 million votes cast in the 2004 presidential election. Less than 100 million votes were cast in 2000.

College campuses across the state have organized voter registration drives. Campus political organizations planned precinct walks where volunteers went door-to-door urging residents to get out and vote. Sacramento State's Progressive Student Alliance and the Associated Students, Inc. helped register an estimated 3,076 students during the election cycle.

ASI's Office of Governmental Affairs Director Joaquin Castaneda said the Secretary of State's office eventually ran out of voter guides and booklets because of the sheer interest in the election. Castaneda alone made five trips to collect more voting guides before eventually being turned away.

Sac State College Republicans President Bonnie MacArthur said her club assisted in various political campaigns and organized rallies for Sen. John McCain's bid for the White House. She said that continued interest in politics depends on the individual person, but young voters tend to pay attention to issues that are relevant to them.

"It's people's right to vote and I'm glad they exercised it," MacArthur said of the high turnout. "I'm glad to see that young people are participating."

John Morgan, senior government major and member of the College Republicans, echoed the sentiment of high youth turnout in the election. He said he became interested in politics because his family was also deeply invested in the political process.

He said college students are too caught up in their lives to worry themselves about politics, and he wanted to do his part to inform them of the political process. It's important to get their voices heard, he said.

"I was absolutely thrilled that a large number of individual college aged individuals got out there and did what they had to do," he said. "It doesn't matter if it turned out for the Democrats. They got out there and got involved."

Sacramento State student Donte Morris, junior business major, said President-elect Barack Obama's candidacy in the election drew him to the electoral process. His youth and his ability to relate to young people as a whole was a contributing factor.

"I've basically seen a young person of color assume the position of president of the United States. It influenced me and just made me want to watch his every move," Donte said. "His stance and his position on major issues made me want to follow everything in the political process."

"Forty-three presidents, and none of them have been like Barack Obama. Where he comes from, what he represents," his brother Dominic Morris added. "It's just him being who he is makes this process worth watching because it is not something you don't see every day in history."

Paul Dickey, senior business major, said young people would take more interest in Obama's presidency by seeing how his presidential cabinet is filled. He said Obama should continue the stride by bringing young faces into his cabinet "instead of filling the room with people who are 50-60 plus."

"If he does that - keep that momentum going - he's going to keep the interet and inspire more young voters to maybe get engaged beyond voting," he said.

Communications studies professor Barbara O'Connor said youth interest in a presidential election has not been this high since the 1968 election. Young voters felt they were voting for someone who wasn't their parent, and were particularly interested in the range of options during the primaries. As a result, the younger generation felt more engaged," she said.

"If they get something from this vote, they'll feel rewarded," O'Connor said. "They should ensure their voices are heard, otherwise, it's a one-shot deal."

O'Connor said the incoming administration should keep young people informed of how the government is doing its job. In 1968, voters felt they were connected to the political process, but were disenchanted after the vote, she said.

The Morris brothers said they feel the American Dream is important to black people now. Growing up, they said they learned of the stereotypical American dream, featuring a middle-aged, 1950s mother putting an apple pie in the windowsill. Their view also featured a father and son playing catch in the backyard.

"That's the American dream we grew up with, we read books about. Now, I actually feel like I'm part of that American dream, not exclusive to certain people," Donte said. "I feel the imagery of Barack Obama being in office just shows opportunity that not only black Americans but also anybody of color can pursue their American Dream."

"You know, slaves built the White House and now somebody's in there coming from a whole different heritage than any other president came from," Dominic said.

On the national stage, the economy has also played a prominent role in helping elect the next president. Nationally and statewide, voters have said the economy was the most important factor in selecting their candidate. Eighty-six percent of voters were worried about economic conditions, according to an AP exit poll.

For California State University students, however, the only number more important than California's 11.6 million votes cast for president is the $11 billion budget shortfall for the current fiscal year. Castaneda said young people tend to stay informed of issues that most affect them. One aspect he said has kept young people more tuned in is California's ongoing budget controversy.

"Controversy always works," Castaneda said. "If that controversy is connected to something substantive, it helps. A lot of times it's not."

O'Connor said young people were very worried about the economy, and they voted for the change they believed would help improve the economy.

"They're very worried of the economy," she said. "Their standard of living is worse than that of their parents and they're rightfully engaged."

The governor proposed a $66 million cut from the CSU system on Nov. 7 and Chancellor Reed returned $31.3 million in October. These moves are already plaguing a university system currently operating with $215 million less than needed, Castaneda said. Campuses are struggling to find other ways to survive financially, and many of those moves may result in cuts to classes and campus services.

"That may translate into an increase of fees again." Castaneda said. "When it comes to your livelihood and your future - especially as a student, and the affordability of this university, (the economy) becomes very important."

Since the election, the governmental affairs office has seen dozens of student volunteers come in, ready to mobilize the campus. Castaneda plans to rally students to let them know of what he called an "ugly, menacing dark economic crisis coming our way." Such discussions, he added, will galvanize students on campus to participate more in the political pocess.

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