Nov 122008
 
Authors: Madeline Novey

In the middle of celebrating this year’s voter turnout at CSU, officials from VoteCSU! and national election organizations said they were excited to report that the national youth vote increased by 3.4 million people from 2004.

The 18- to 29-year-old voter share of the electorate surpassed that of voters over 65 years old for the first time since 1988, according to the Public Interest Research Group’s New Voters Project, a national non-partisan group that worked with university voter coalitions across the country to build voter campaigns registration and education campaigns.

The 18 to 29 year-old voter share made up 18 percent of the total electorate compared to the 16 percent contributed by voters over 65. The latter typically has a greater interest in politics and vote at a higher rate, election officials said.

Sujatha Jahagirdar, the program director for PIRG’s New Voters Project, said that statistics show the increase in the national youth vote is the most significant in the past three election cycles since the 2004 presidential election.

Jahagirdar said she believes the increase can be attributed to the fact that campaigns took a greater interest in the youth demographic, and she credited technology with helping young voters to better express their political opinions and increase interest.

“The purpose of (PIRG’s New Voters Project) is to mobilize the youth voters and make their voices heard,” Jahagirdar said. “What we’d like to do is make politicians pay attention to young people.”

Jahagirdar added that the race for the presidential nomination during the primaries heightened student interest in the overall election from the start, because reports showed that students believed in the weight of their vote.

“There was an enourmous amount of excitement.” Jahagirdar said. “We had such a wide-open field, especially in the primaries because it was the first time in 80 years that there wasn’t an incumbent on either side, and it was unclear as to who was going to win the presidential nomination.”

After VoteCSU! formed in late spring 2008 and registered more than 1,000 people to vote this past summer, the coalition teamed up with the PIRG’s New Voters Project to bolster its efforts.

After registering 6,530 people on-campus to vote with the help of other voter coaltions, VoteCSU! changed its direction to focus on voter education and encouraging registered voters to get to the polls on Election Day.

“It’s amazing to know that VoteCSU! can do more than register people to vote and that we can uphold voting rights,” said Katie Freudenthal, the director of community affairs for the Associated Students of CSU, as she discussed the coalition’s successes, which included pledging more than 5,000 students to vote in 2008.

According to the Larimer County Elections Department, 7,221 people voted early at the Lory Student Center polling location between Oct. 20 and Oct. 31, followed by the 2,050 people who voted on Nov. 4.

Freudenthal said that VoteCSU! took pride in the interest and level of student-participation in the historical presidential race and that efforts won’t drop off in the months after the election. Members are working to institutionalize the coalition on campus.

“VoteCSU! isn’t disappearing,” Freudenthal said. “We’re going to get it institutionalized at the university, strengthen efforts and diversify the coalition.”

Freudenthal encouraged students to match the 2008 level of participation for the city and congressional elections in the next two years.

“Students are here; we care,” Freudenthal said. “A lot of people think students are apathetic – but with the trend going up, it shows that we aren’t apathetic.”

Seth Walter, the director of legislative affairs for ASCSU, who collaborated with other members of his department to educate registered voters on campus by proving non-partisan information about the 2008 ballot on the ASCSU Web site and through a series of classes, said that he was impressed by the youth turnout.

“We worked hard to do it, but we didn’t take (students) into the polls to vote; they did that on their own,” Walter said.

Walter added he thought students were responsible in educating themselves on the issues and candidates before entering the voting booths. “I was very impressed with the number of students who knocked that information out and figured out who they were voting for. . I can only speculate where we’re going to be two years from now,” Walter said.

Senior Reporter Madeline Novey can be reached at news@collegian.com

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