- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 12, 2004

A Montgomery, Ala.-based organization is trying to lure 2 million evangelical Christian youth to the ballot box in November by setting up voter-registration tables at summer Christian music festivals.

So far, Redeem the Vote has registered more than 5,000 youth at four festivals or at the group’s Web site, www.redeemthevote.com. And the group has plans to increase that total to 2 million voters through announcements on a slate of Christian radio stations, in the hopes of averting another nailbiter like the 2000 election, which was determined by 537 votes in Florida.

This drive is the latest campaign to get out the vote among the nation’s youth. Rock the Vote, a nonpartisan organization started in 1990 to promote freedom of expression in music and the arts and is spearheaded by MTV, has already registered 500,000 voters this year, halfway to its goal of 1 million.

But the Vote for Change tour, the anti-President Bush coalition of musicians ranging from rock legend Bruce Springsteen to country stars the Dixie Chicks to hip-hop performer Mary J. Blige, is performing 34 concerts in 28 cities in the 17 swing states seen by many as likely to decide the election. There will be registration booths at the concerts, aimed at courting undecided or liberal-leaning unregistered young voters.

Redeem president Dr. Randy Brinson, a gastroenterologist from Montgomery, insists his group isn’t telling people how to vote.

[W]e’re telling you it’s your God-given responsibility to vote and participate in the political process,” he said.

Dr. Brinson said he was inspired by the Rock the Vote campaign, which he believes energized the youth vote to provide the crucial votes to elect President Clinton in 1992.

“Music influences the culture,” he said. “We’re just trying to influence people on the other side.”

Thirty-five Christian musicians, ranging from country to rock music, are either allowing registration tables at their concerts or are recording radio spots urging young people to vote. At the Kingdom Bound Festival in Buffalo, N.Y., last week, more than 500 people registered.

Dr. Brinson has raised $500,000 thus far for the group. Even though polls show evangelicals heavily favoring Mr. Bush, Dr. Brinson insists he’s not partisan.

“We are just trying to get people to register to vote,” he said.

Redeem the Vote board members include his college-age son, Chris, who will be a senior at Samford University in Birmingham, and Ned Ryun, the son of Rep. Jim Ryun, Kansas Republican, who is a student at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville.

Many of the volunteers staffing the registration tables are students from Patrick Henry College or other home-schooling networks affiliated with the Home School Legal Defense Fund, which is based at the college.

“Registering to vote is not the first thing college students do,” Chris Brinson said. “College life is almost like a bubble, because you are not totally in the real world yet. When students are confronted with how important elections are, they realize their opinions can be heard through their vote.”

Redeem the Vote has received endorsements from several evangelical luminaries: Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and American Values President Gary Bauer. Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, chairs the advisory board, and Joe Turnham, former chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, is the vice chairman.

Starting this week, Redeem the Vote is running public service announcements on 2,500 Christian radio stations until Labor Day to drum up voters. In the second week of September, several Christian radio networks will take part in a “Raise the Vote Radiothon,” which Dr. Brinson hopes will register at least 250,000 Christians.

He got the idea for Redeem the Vote last fall while attending a concert by Rebecca St. James, an Australian-born contemporary Christian singer. Noticing the thousands of young people there, he wondered if voter registration at such events would result in a better turnout among young evangelical Christians, who are often disenchanted with politics.

“They see one party taking them for granted and another writing them off,” he said.

But a new poll by Rock the Vote and Pace University shows that Redeem the Vote has its work cut out for it. Nearly four in 10, or 39 percent, of new voters contacted by the two organizations consider themselves evangelical, compared with the 6 in 10, or 61 percent, who do not. Thirty-three percent of the new voters said they were Republicans, while 35 percent said they were Democrats.

Four million evangelical Christians failed to vote in 2000, according to a 2001 speech by Bush adviser Karl Rove. Dr. Brinson says his research has determined that between 1994 and 2000, there was a drop-off of 6 million Christian voters. Although there was a surge of registrations in 2002, at least 4 million are still not registered.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 128 million out of 193 million U.S. citizens 18 years or older are registered to vote, leaving 65 million who are not. The highest voter-registration percentages are among 65- to 75-year-olds (79 percent) and the lowest is among the 18- to 24-year-olds (43 percent).

Not only are the young underregistered, but only 19 percent of that voting bloc bother to turn up on Election Day, the bureau says.

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