Groups mobilize to attract youth vote

With the presidential election less than three weeks away, campaigns and political organizations  are boosting efforts to get young voters to the polls, which one political scientist said might reverse low youth-voter participation.

Campaigns this election year have recognized a new, younger audience and have revised campaigning strategies, said political analyst and professor Susan MacManus.

“Part of the reason campaigns are focused on youth voters is (that) in the past they focused on registering these new voters but didn’t follow up with them to vote,” she said.

MacManus credits new technology — such as e-mail and social networking sites — with enlightening young voters to the importance of voting. She also said the Internet allows campaigns to keep in contact with young voters, which is crucial.

National campaigns like MTV’s “Choose or Lose” and “Declare Yourself” target persons between the ages of 18 and 29 with a simple message to register and vote. Student organizations are also pushing to get their peers to vote.

Both USF’s College Democrats and College Republicans have worked to register students on campus and are now working to get those students to the polls.

The College Republicans at USF are encouraging students and young voters to vote absentee this election season, said College Republicans Communications Director Billy Schmidt.

“Early voting is the key to winning an election, since thereafter, those who voted will encourage others to do the same,” said Matt Coppens, College Democrats president.

The College Democrats plan to provide music and refreshments to those waiting in line to vote Nov. 4. Coppens expects lines to have about a one- to two-hour wait.

The College Republicans want to host events to mobilize voters, but they are still in the planning stages, Schmidt said.

“We are working on having giveaways and things of that nature,” he said.

MacManus said the effort to make voting more convenient isn’t particular to student organizations. Campaigns are pushing young voters to vote early and locally, or absentee. They are also providing transportation to polling sites and encouraging voters to take their friends, she said.

“Without these things, the chances for voter turnout are minimal,” she said.

Naomi Margo Johnson worked with Florida PIRG — a consumer-advocacy group — to register students on campus for the 2008 election.

Johnson, an international business and marketing sophomore, took part in not only registering new voters, but providing change of address forms for registered voters in front of Russell M. Cooper Hall and canvassing door to door.

“I think it’s a good way to inform the youth that they are going to be the leaders of the world and they need to start now with the decisions that they make,” she said.

The recent economic crisis might also prompt young people to vote, as jobs are of particular interest to up-and-coming graduates about to join America’s work force, MacManus said.

Campaigns are including young people in their day-to-day activities in addition to promoting the youth vote.

“The young-to-young idea has been very effective in this election year. Campaigns have hired young voters for web design and hired youth coordinators in the community and planning for college campuses,” MacManus said.

Courtney Riggins, a political science senior, said it’s important for young voters to have incentives to vote.

“It gives young voters a chance to vote, and for the young people to actually have a say in what goes on in the government and country,” she said.