On a mission to mobilize

Young voters across the United States have a notoriously poorvoter turnout record, but here in Oregon the Student Vote Coalition(SVC) is trying to turn that around with a record-setting voterregistration campaign throughout the state.

The non-partisan SVC hopes to register 30,000 young votersbefore the November 2 election, including 5,000 students fromPortland State and 3,600 at Portland Community College. If thegroup succeeds at its goal, it would be the largest youth voterproject in Oregon history.

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.

“Young people have been left out of politics for several years,and it’s time for them to step up,” said Annie Stewart, a PSUgraduate who is now the Portland campus organizer for the NewVoters Project, on of the Coalition’s member groups.

The Coalition consists of several groups who are involved invoter turnout activism, including the Oregon Student Association,the New Voters Project, the Oregon Community College StudentAssociation and the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group(OSPIRG).

“There is kind of this strange network going on because thereare so many groups,” Stewart said. “We want to expand to includemore campuses than ever before.”

The SVC launched it voter mobilization efforts with a meeting atPSU April 30, attended by U.S. Congressman from Oregon EarlBlumenauer, PSU President Daniel Bernstine and many student leadersfrom PSU and PCC.

“For today’s students, this year’s election could be the mostimportant of their lives,” Blumenauer said at the kick-off event.”The future of our country is at stake and the only way they canensure that they are counted is if they vote. I can’t emphasizeenough how important it is that young Americans’ voices areheard.”

Since the kick-off, the Coalition has registered about 2,500students throughout the state, including about 700 at PSU,according to Stewart.

Part of the Coalition’s strategy is “institutionalize” voterregistration, by getting colleges and universities to get facultyand administration involved in encouraging students to vote. All ofthe Oregon University System’s presidents have already signed onwith SVC to help.

Ideally students will be asked if they want to register to votewhen they register for classes, and professors will encouragestudents to register during the first week of classes, according toStewart.

Much of the Coalitions efforts are geared toward the fall, whenthe group hopes to look beyond getting people registered and focuson getting them to actually turn out at the polls, something thatcan prove to be a difficult task.

“Actually getting people to vote is harder, and it’s harder toget volunteers excited about it,” Stewart said.

SVC’s goal is to increase youth voter participation by 5percent. While that may seem like a small number, it would actuallybe a significant accomplishment considering that the youth vote hassteadily decreased year after year.

With a large portion of young potential voters still undecidedin their political affiliation, Stewart said that she hopes moreyoung people will get energized about voting as candidates settheir sights on such a potentially powerful group of voters.

“I think politicians are realizing that young people are thelast demographic that is still up for grabs,” she said.