Standing in the pouring rain with a red VoteMob poncho, yellingencouragement to passersby to vote, you wouldn’t think that this isKento Azegami’s first election.
But it is. The 18-year-old Portland State student and Vote Mobcampus organizer has transformed into a political machine in thepast months and will do anything to inspire others to join him.
“If we have to pick somebody up and carry them on our backsto a polling place to vote, we’ll do it.” Azegami says, hisface beaming with inspired fervor.
Azegami isn’t alone. The Alaska native represents a dramaticmovement in Oregon and across the country of politically activeyoung people driving voter turnout.
In Oregon alone, a coalition of student organizations registered31,952 new voters and if registered voter turnout is any gauge manyof these new voters exercised their newfound right.
Azegami isn’t shy about his goal.
The success of his issues “really boils down to how we getpeople out to vote.”
“If more people vote in general, our issues get morevotes.”
Groups like VoteMob, which is an affiliate of 21st CenturyDemocrats, register voters for a partisan purpose. Partisaninterest groups working to register voters experienced allegationsof voter fraud or coercion as the election tightened heading intothe final weeks of voter registration, but none of the charges havestuck.
Controversy aside, there is a palpable sense of excitement oncampuses around Oregon as young people (considered by pollsters tobe aged 18-29) begin to elicit an interest in politics that seemsmore 1970 than 2004.
Vote Mob was operating a number of unofficial ballot drop boxesaround the PSU campus Tuesday and by the afternoon the boxes werestuffed.
“People were literally shoving their ballots into thebox,” Azegami said.
Just two days after the Oregon registration deadline, more than400 students and faculty crowded into the PSU Student Union towatch the final Presidential debate, splitting into partisan groupsand factions and alternating their cheers and boos.
As Republican students jeered at John Kerry on the second floor,rumblings of laughter directed at President Bush could be heardfrom the largely Kerry-leaning crowd a floor below.
The intensity and derisiveness of the student body at PortlandState is indicative of trends nationwide and underscores theperceived importance of this presidential election. Partyregistration is up and the undecided vote nearly disappeared inpresidential polls leading up to last night.
Since the 1970s, there has been a steady decline in youth voterparticipation throughout the United States. In the 2000 election,only 36 percent of 18-24 year olds exercised their right tovote.
But the narrow margin of that election, which according to theOregon Secretary of State Elections Division in Oregon was 6,765votes and less elsewhere, has added to a surge in voter activity ingeneral.
“People have realized that individual votes really domatter,” Arlie Adkins of the Oregon Student Associationsaid.
According to exit polls, it seems that young voters turned outin higher numbers this year, even if records haven’t beenbroken.
For Azegami, this election is about the issues and turnout. Andthat seems to be an assessment that bridges party lines.
|Vanguard election team
The following staffers contributed to this special extendedelection section:
Brett D. Pearce
Patrick Alan Coleman