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Youth Voter Turnout Higher Than Ever

This story was written by Kate Monahan, The Daily Campus

The 2008 presidential election saw 52-53 percent of eligible 18-29-year-olds cast their votes, an increase of 3.4 million from the 2004 election, according to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).

"This was the first year in about 20 years that the youth vote was higher than that of people 65 and older," said Jeffrey Czerwiec, ConnPIRG Campus Organizer.

According to Czerwiec, 5,571 University ofConnecticut students voted in mansfield, a 48 percent increase from 2004, in which 3,755 students voted. This increase is on par with the national trends of voter turnout.

According to Czerwiec, young people made up 18 percent of the electorate, while voters 65 and over comprised only 16 percent in this election.

"This showed that politicians need to be paying attention to what issues that we care about, not just the issues that older Americans care about," Czerwiec said.

The overwhelming majority of young voters were Democrats but "young people aren't totally committed to one party," said Bobby Campbell, director of policy and programs for the Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE). "Young people are issue driven," and can be swayed if politicians campaign to them.

Campbell thought that President-elect Barack Obama was able to overwhelmingly gain support from young voters because he "captured" them and gave them the impression that their voices would be heard. CIRCLE statistics show that young voters favored Obama 2:1, whereas all other age groups favored Obama by mere margins. By "actively targeting" young people as a legitimate source of votes, Obama was able to gain leads in swing states like North Carolina, Campbell said. He set up college chapters early on, and spoke to the issues young people are most concerned with like: global warming, war, and most importantly, the economy. Campbell pointed out that, "the vast majority of students graduate with debt" and the bleak outlook for jobs is probably the largest issue young voters face.

The major strides in increasing young voter turnout are part of a decade-long trend of increased youth turnout. ConnPIRG for example, is one of 100 student PIRGs across the country, and apart of the nation's largest youth voter mobilization program, the "New Voters Project."

Czerwiec explained that ConnPIRG worked in various ways to get out the vote, including joint efforts with SUBOG, the College Republicans and College Democrats, as well as the UConn Votes coalition.

"That was one of the things that made it really successful this year and helped increase the student vote, was having different groups with different backgrounds working on one common cause," Czerwiec said.

New technologies were also employed; Campbell explained that with most young people checking social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook multiple times a day, they became viable tools for reaching young voters and piquing their interest in the political process.

Another new technique many youth voting groups used was the use of text messaging. Czerwiec explained that for the first time, "ConnPIRG sent out text messages reminding students that Nov. 4 was Election Day, and reminded them to cast their vote."

The old methods were employed as well: "we made just under a thousand phone calls reminding students to vote," Czerwiec said.

Still, despite the increased voter turnout, the voting process is not without its problems for young voters. For students with multiple residences, jobs, bank accounts, and IDs in one or both locations, the question of where to register and how to properly show proof of residence provides many problems for students. For example, some midwestrn states do not accept P.O. Box addresses on registration forms, which most students living on campus have, Campbell explained. Long lines are another deterrant against student voters. SAVE was created due to frustrations over 10 hour lines at Kenyon College in 2004. According to Campbell, the unfair perception is that young people don't vote, and election officials "under-anticipate" the amount of student voters.

The interest in political processes "shouldn't end just because the election is over," Campbell said. He said that we need to "formalize and institutionalize" the voting registration process by making federally funded colleges provide the option to register along with class registration, since around 80 percent of registered voters vote.

The passage of Question two in Connecticut, allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primaries, is a step forward, Campbell said. He said that "a positive voting experience" will "increase the likelihood" that a young person will vote again, and further "engage" young people in politics. As this election demonstrates, engaged young voters force politicians to listen to their views, and make their feelings on major issues a priority.

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