The Student Vote Coalition made history in Oregon last week when it closed its non-partisan registration campaign with a record-setting 31,952 new student voters registered across campuses statewide.
Contributing largely to the coalition’s efforts were 450 student volunteers who turned out across the state to reach out to their cohorts and give voice to the often-overlooked constituency. At Portland State University alone, volunteers registered 4,428 new voters by reaching out to students bustling about campus, attending football games and moving into college housing.
The success of the campaign “speaks to the importance of the election and the hard work that was put in by our student volunteers and student governments across the state,” said Arlie Adkins, communications director for the Oregon Student Association, one of the coalition’s partner groups.
Indeed, it has been nearly impossible to walk across campus in recent weeks without being offered a registration form.
Aimee Enders was among the Portland State students volunteering their free time to help empower the student body. Before signing up with the coalition, Enders said she passed by volunteers on campus many times, thinking she was too busy to get involved, but would later find herself just watching television at home. Finally she thought, “I should be doing something to get people’s voices out there rather than sitting around my house.” Once students began to volunteer, Adkins said, they kept coming back. “It’s an exciting thing. You feel like you’re part of something huge.”
The narrow margin of the 2000 presidential election, which according to the Oregon Secretary of State Elections Division in Oregon was 6,765 votes, has added to a surge in voter activity in general. “People have realized that individual votes really do matter,” Adkins said.
There is also a particular sense of urgency this year, he added. “There is a divisiveness in this election on every level, regardless of which side you come down on. The best way to have a say in it is to register and vote.”
OSA, which includes representatives from Oregon’s seven public universities as well as Lane Community College and Oregon Health Sciences University, got together with the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG), and registered 24,000 students in 2000. Only 36 percent of 18- to 24-year-old youths actually voted in that election.
The Student Vote Coalition, which formed earlier this year when the Oregon Student Association and OSPIRG joined with the Oregon Community College Student Association and the national New Voters Project, hopes to increase turnout among 18- to 24-year-olds by 5 percent this November.
It kicked off its ambitious registration campaign in May right after the primary elections, with a visit to PSU by U.S. Congressman for Oregon Earl Blumenauer, who fought to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 in 1970 as a student activist.
With its registration campaign now successfully completed, the Student Vote Coalition has turned its energy toward its get out the vote campaign. Registration is only the first step in the voting process, so keeping with its momentum, the coalition is now focusing on educating new student voters on the many issues and candidates on November’s ballot, as well as encouraging them to get their ballots in early. According to Erin Linell, the Portland State campus organizer for the Oregon Student Association, volunteers will be dropping by classrooms, hosting ballot measure forums, and distributing 10,000 voter guides.
The last day to turn in ballots is November 2.
Looking beyond the November election, Adkins said, the high number of student registration is significant for other factors as well. The Oregon Student Association is currently working on getting a tuition freeze for students, and larger registration numbers is one way to have an impact in Salem.