As the 2004 election season begins to heat up with the Florida Democratic primary on Tuesday, college students need to pay attention since they are going to be a target audience the candidates will try to persuade.
Young voters have been hard to attract to the polls in the past few years. Many students think their one vote won’t make a difference in an election outcome.
However, the famously contested 2000 election isn’t the only one that showed voting is important, especially for voters 18 to 24.
According to the SmackDown Your Vote Campaign, an effort to get more 18- to 24-year-olds involved in politics and registered to vote, in 1776, one vote made the United States official language English instead of German. In 1868, one vote saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment. In 1876, one vote in the Electoral College gave Rutherford B. Hayes the title of President of the United States. In 1960, Richard Nixon lost the presidential election to John F. Kennedy by a margin of less than one vote per precinct.
And in the 2000 presidential election, in Florida, a state with more than 16 million people, the difference in votes was 537.
In addition, the University of Maryland reported that in presidential elections from 1972 to 2000, the turnout rate declined by 13 percent among voters 18 to 24 years old. In 2000, only 42 percent of eligible voters 18 to 24 voted, while 70 percent of people 25 and older did. In regards to Florida, the U.S. Census report for November 2000 stated that out of 11,633,000 registered voters, 1,410,000 of them are 18 to 24. Of them, only 416,000 voted in the 2000 presidential election.
What does this mean? It means even though there has been a decline in 18- to 24-year-old voters in the past, slowly but surely the young voters are gaining ground and are expected to make a heavier impact in the 2004 election, said Susan MacManus, USF political science professor and analyst. MacManus said student voters need to know how to get involved and how to vote.
“It isn’t going to be a massive impact, but it will definitely go up, and there will be some increase,” MacManus said. “But I have been receiving a lot of calls from campaigns trying to recruit (student) volunteers.”
In a recent MTV poll conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, four out of 10 of the 18- to 24-year-olds surveyed said they would “definitely vote” in November, up nearly 30 percent since 2000. In addition, a survey done by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics found two-thirds of college students were registered to vote.
MacManus said it is important that students realize every vote counts, and by registering to vote they are able to have input on changes in government.
“A lot of the candidates appear to be looking at the increase in the statistics of young voters and are trying to get them to vote in the elections,” MacManus said.
Besides volunteering for a specific campaign, USF students can also get active in the political process by attending the Voter Registration Drives held on campus, said Buddy Johnson, Supervisor of Elections for Hillsborough County.
“Regardless of what voting year it is, people’s votes count just as much,” Johnson said. “But students hold the power to get involved and make a change.”
Johnson said Hillsborough County has held several registration drives at USF during the course of the year and has had much success. One of the drives, Wake Up Wednesday, registered more than 500 students to vote and is still looking for more ways to get students registered.
“We stand ready to help anyone do a voter registration drive or get registered,” Johnson said.Johnson said if the students can’t participate or can’t come out to register to vote during the drives, the Supervisor of Elections’ Web site can easily guide them to the latest updates on election news, how to register or how to obtain an absentee ballot.
“They could absolutely request an absentee ballot from their county in which they live, call on the phone or go online,” Johnson said.
The Web site lists specific directions on how to register and how to request an absentee ballot, Johnson said.
In addition, Johnson said he is trying to make the Phyllis P. Marshall Center an early voting site, which may help students even more.
“Sometimes students like to change the location where they vote. This way they could vote on campus,” he said.
Being prepared and doing your homework on the candidates can also save time when voting, whether by absentee or in the voting precincts, MacManus said. Sample ballots are one way to prepare and bubble in the choices in before heading to the polls on Election Day.
But in the end both Johnson and MacManus said students need to get involved and get registered because the increase of the number of voters can continue to rise and the candidates will start really focusing on young voters.
“Every bit helps,” MacManus said. “Students need to get engaged in being voters.”
For more information on how to register or to get involved in the 2004 election visit:
http://www.votehillsborough.org/ – Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Web site
http://www.smackdownyourvote.com – SmackDown Your Vote Campaign
http://www.rockthevote.org/ – MTV’s Rock the Vote Campaign