One voter at a time

It’s talked about every election year: few young people vote.

With the 2006 election just nine months away, a group of Portland State capstone students have joined forces with one of the state’s most influential grassroots organizations with some new strategies for turning out young voters.

Students from the civic leadership capstone class are working for “Building Blocks, Building Votes,” which is a non-partisan effort by the Bus Project to get young residents of Portland not only registered for the 2006 elections, but to actually show up at the polls and cast their votes.

The Bus Project launched the campaign in the summer of 2005 and is founded on the question, “Can we get young people in Portland to care about their neighborhood?” The program focuses around community volunteers who are trained to canvas their neighborhoods registering their neighbors to vote. It specifically targets young neighborhoods such as the apartment blocks in and around Portland State and close-in Northwest Portland.

The campaign’s philosophy is to recruit captains from each neighborhood in order to give potential voters a personal representative to speak with.

“People are more likely to want to hear from their neighbor, it’s more personal,” said Anna Galland, youth vote director for the Bus Project. People also sometimes mistake canvassers for solicitors, Galland explained. By using representatives from each neighborhood, the chance of getting negative reception is reduced.

“People have been coming out of the woodwork: we are up to 900 volunteers,” Galland said. And Portland State students have played and will continue to play key roles in the campaign.

“I think the project is definitely moving toward success,” said Claire Loomis, student organizer at Portland State.

However, in a non-presidential campaign year it is likely election hype will not reach the levels it did in 2004, thus the need for such programs to help stir interest, Galland said.

According to population counts from the PSU Population Research Center, and registration figures, an estimated 50,000 18-to-34 year olds are unregistered in Multnomah County. This is a substantial amount of votes, enough in fact, to sway an electoral decision.

In Oregon’s 2006 elections positions such as governor, state Senate, United States House, state House and a variety of ballot initiatives and referendums will be decided. Considering many of these positions and decisions affect everything from state healthcare to college tuition, Bus Project and its Portland State supporters are concerned with getting young voters registered and to the polls. The project also does follow-up work to help ensure that each new registered voter actually votes come election day.

The capstone class at Portland State will be organizing and hosting “Love Your Block,” a free conference taking place March 4 at 1:30 p.m. in the University’s Multicultural Center. The conference is free and aims towards teaching attendees how to register potential voters, hopefully recruiting them as neighborhood captains.

Besides the upcoming, “Love Your Block” conference, the Bus Project is planning many more events to get young voters involved with the democratic process. Often times these events are accompanied by refreshments, live music or DJs and activities to help breathe new life into what some might view as a dull process.