- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2004

Don’t tell Malia Lazu, national field coordinator of the D.C.-based Young Voter Alliance, that Americans under 30 didn’t deliver on their projected votes.

“My answer to [the critics] is to quote Mark Twain, who said, ‘There are lies, damn lies and statistics,” Ms. Lazu said yesterday. “At the end of the day, you’ll see what young people did and what young people contributed to make this election close.”

This dynamic Takoma Park woman, who is featured in a voter-mobilization documentary aimed at young voters titled “Stand Up!” contends that “the old gatekeepers don’t know how to quantify our numbers.” Numbers, she adds, that “helped John Kerry get down to one state, Ohio.”

Further, she said the Democratic Party “needs to stop using youth as a scapegoat.” In dispute are preliminary reports that American voters in the under-30 age bracket composed only 17 percent of the overall turnout Tuesday. This contested figure represents no change from the last presidential election.

“They’re just not true,” Ms. Lazu said of those initial reports. She pointed to statistics compiled by William Galston, interim dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. His findings were included in a piece in the Boston Globe written by David C. King, associate director of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Young voters turned out in higher percentages than they have since 1972. At least 20.9 million Americans under 30 voted Tuesday, which is an increase of 4.6 million voters from 2000, based on Mr. Galston’s study. That number suggests that 51.6 percent of young people voted Tuesday, compared with 42.3 percent in the last election.

Mr. Galston based his findings on the percentage of young people eligible to vote who actually showed up to vote. The disputed report is based on the number of young people who cast ballots among the overall number of all voters, which places their numbers at 17 percent, roughly unchanged from the previous election.

“It’s totally wrong,” Mr. Galston said of the report using the latter methodology. Three things combined to substantially increase their participation: a number of relevant issues, a perceived difference in the candidates, and an unprecedented mobilization campaign targeted toward them.

In battleground states, young-voter turnout registered 64.4 percent of those eligible. Mr. Galston noted that a large number of college students voted by absentee ballot and exit polls completely missed this group numbering nearly 3 million.

“Without young Democrat voters, President Bush would have rolled to victory in Wisconsin and New Hampshire. Iowa and Nebraska, too, would have been much bigger wins for the president,” Mr. King writes of young voters who favored Mr. Kerry (54 percent) to Mr. Bush (44 percent.) Instead of criticizing young people, Mr. King — and yours truly — contends that both parties, which registered record numbers of young voters, “should be seeing their future in the eyes of young voters.”

The Democratic Party lost this presidential election, but the American people will be bigger losers if we turn off young voters by criticizing them or marginalizing their efforts just as they have become energized about the political process.

“We’re used to not being taken seriously,” Ms. Lazu said flippantly. Now, that statement is a sad commentary itself.

Undaunted, Ms. Lazu said, “We had a win in our pocket,” just by stopping the decline of young voters. “We saw the energy in the streets” with young voters casting ballots and volunteering in campaigns.

“We’re very proud of what we did. We’re only disappointed about the outcome,” she said.

In the future, more resources will be needed to capitalize on young voters’ interest in politics, but she warns that youth-voter mobilization efforts “cannot be episodic.” Those efforts must be ongoing and long-term.

“I’m telling young people who are calling me frustrated: We have to go to a marathon mindset from a sprint mindset. We can’t look at this [election] as a one-time win-lose, but as long-term movement building.”

Next month, Ms. Lazu, an Emerson College graduate who founded the Boston Vote (now Mass Vote) nonprofit organization, will be joining the D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies. She will travel across the country mobilizing community groups around issues such as livable wages, universal health care, affordable housing and criminal justice.

Those who are angry and upset about Tuesday’s election results cannot afford to sit back, check out or compound their losses by wallowing in those Miles Davis “Kind of Blue” notes.

Be like Ms. Lazu. No matter your age, capitalize on the energy and enthusiasm generated by this election and engage in the political process beyond simply voting this November.

“You can’t start in August every four years. … It has to be every year for mayor, every two years for Congress, every four years for president,” she explained. “It’s not enough to buy a ‘Vote or Die’ T-shirt and think you’ve done your part.”

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