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As elections near, voter participation needs to increase

If you were on campus for more than five minutes last week, someone probably asked you if you are registered to vote. Voter registration drives are scattered about the campus community from Cooper Lawn to Gray’s Bookstore. The remarkable part of these drives, however, is not how ubiquitous they are, but the fact that students continue to register, and in doing so could represent a powerful voting bloc in the upcoming election.

It is bewildering to imagine that the U.S. could go in a completely different direction if the youth of this country would actually go out and vote. With protests against the war, rising unemployment and a souring economy, it is clear that people are desperate for change.

But it’s unclear whether young people will actually head to the polls. They should, considering history shows they can make a difference.

Going to the polls is quite a hassle, however, for college students juggling work and classes. You have to track down a precinct, which is more likely than not in a church or Mason hall you have never been to. If you’re registered out of the county or out of the state, you have to request an absentee ballot and then send it. And there’s a time constraint: The polls close at 7 p.m. and there is a deadline to send in absentee ballots. America expects this much effort from a generation that has trouble rolling out of bed before lunchtime and has access to practically everything via the Web.

In 2004, MTV launched the Vote or Die campaign to get young people to the polls. The campaign was everywhere. You could hardly get through your favorite episode of The Real World without being bombarded with facts and figures about the candidates. Every celebrity from Paris Hilton to P. Diddy promoted voting, but still only a little more than half of voters under the age of 30 made it to the polls.

It is not impossible to mobilize youth, though. The youths of our parents’ generation were hugely influential in ending the Vietnam War and campaigning for Bobby Kennedy. It wasn’t just liberals, either: Reagan benefited from youth alignment with the Republican Party in the 1980s. The direction of our country can be determined by the ideals of this nation’s youth, the very people who will either reap the benefits or suffer the consequences in the present and the near future. This could be the year of the long-awaited youth revolution anticipated since the voting age was changed from 21 to 18 in 1972.

It’s clear that young people care about the course of the country: Everyone on campus has an opinion on the way things should be in America — and no problem advertising it to everyone they know. Countless students walk around with Obama T-shirts and droves of conservatives hand out pamphlets. Many share their opinions about the current presidential administration. What you should ask, however, is whether they are actually going to make a difference by voicing their opinion where it matters — at the polls.

“This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected,” said Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in a speech this spring. “And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation — the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history.”

Many college students dream of changing society for the better, and this election is our chance.  Let’s not waste another opportunity.

Damara Rodriguez is majoring in mass communications.