- The Washington Times - Monday, September 27, 2004

With voter-registration deadlines for the November election just days away, student activists are scrambling across area college campuses hoping to sign up first-time voters.

Stephanie Sauer, 21, president of the student government at Virginia’s George Mason University, said that by casting their votes, young people can have a profound effect on this year’s elections.

“I believe that my generation and the college generation is the swing vote of this election. So if we come out as the strong force that we could be, we will definitely swing this election one way or the other,” she said.

Hoping to make the prediction a reality, George Mason University’s student government has joined forces with other campus organizations to conduct a voter-registration drive up to the deadline for registration. Similar student-run groups at Howard University and American University in the District have registered hundreds of young voters.

The deadline is Monday in the District and Virginia, Oct. 12 in Maryland.

Since beginning its voter-mobilization efforts in mid-August, Howard University has added about 600 names to the District’s voter rolls. American University officials reported that 100 people registered on the first day of its drive last week.

Georgetown University’s College Republicans provided absentee-ballot applications to 200 students during a weeklong canvassing project.

But voter registration doesn’t automatically translate into voter turnout, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The bureau reports that in 2000, 50.7 percent of eligible voters ages 18 to 24 were registered to vote, but only 36.1 percent went to the polls.

Chequan Lewis, director of political affairs for Howard’s student government, said education about election-year issues is a crucial first step to turning around these numbers . By holding issue-related forums within coming weeks, the student groups hope to remind young people that they have a stake in the political process.

“What happens down the street on Capitol Hill isn’t happening in some fantasy land,” Mr. Lewis, 21, said. “These are real people making real decisions. In a close election, an increased sense of political awareness among young voters may be a powerful force come November.

Studies done by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning in 2002 indicated that the population of people between the ages of 15 and 25 has grown substantially in recent years and now rivals the baby-boom generation as the nation’s most populous generation.

Aware of the voting power of young people, this year’s candidates are making concerted efforts to court young voters.

Both Sen. John Kerry and President Bush have portions of their Web sites dedicated to young voters, offering information on voter registration, volunteer opportunities and issues affecting students. The Massachusetts Democrat also has appeared on television’s “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart.

Jason Trombley, vice president of American University’s Student Confederation, said that in the end, the most important element of voter drives is to bring Election Day to the forefront of young voters’ minds.

“Students on this campus are very politically active, and they’re willing to go out and vote,” Mr. Trombley, 20, said. “We just need to remind them that Nov. 2 is Election Day and to go out and vote.”

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