Drive on to get students to vote.
Hoping to build on recent success getting college students to vote, student activists in Oregon are again fanning out on state campuses and are a third of the way to a goal of registering 18,000 new voters in time for the Nov. 7 general election.
The Student Vote Coalition has until the Oct. 17 registration deadline to meet its goal. The Oregon Student Association also is putting out a voter guide, campuses are planning candidate and ballot measure forums, and organizers will go door-to-door to get newly registered voters to cast their ballots.
OSA communications director Courtney Sproule said with tuition still on the rise and colleges and universities struggling to maintain programs, students have a vested interest in the election.
"What we're trying to communicate to students and why we think students will vote is they are facing a doomsday scenario," she said. "They're paying more and more and getting less and less. So students have a lot of issues they stand to win on."
The student groups are non-partisan and do not advocate for or against candidates or measures. But Sproule said a number of issues will have a direct effect on students, citing Measures 39, 41 and 48, all of which would result in significant reductions in state revenue and therefore the amount of money available for higher education.
And without naming particular candidates, she said students also have a stake in many political races.
"Students can choose a governor who will reinvest in postsecondary education or a governor who is going to pay for the cost of college on the backs of students," Sproule said. "And legislators are voting on issues that directly affect students' lives."
The campaign is trying to build on the 2004 effort, which registered 33,000 new voters on college campuses, including 6,000 at the UO alone.
But getting students to fill out registration cards is one thing. Getting them to actually cast ballots by Election Day is another.
Eligible voters in the 18 to 24 age group in the past have had one of the lowest voter turnout rates of any demographic nationwide. But campus organizers say they have turned that around with aggressive get-out-the-vote drives.
According to an OSA fact sheet based on precinct voting figures, the turnout in student-heavy districts in Eugene hit 88 percent in 2004. Those figures don't distinguish between student and nonstudent voters, but the high number of students living in those precincts suggests that they turned out in substantial numbers.
Another study cited by the organization and based on a telephone survey said that nationally, 77 percent of student voters cast their ballots in 2004, considerably more than the 42 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds not attending college and 60 percent of eligible voters overall.
Several student organizations, including Building Votes and the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group, are working with the OSA and student governments to keep those numbers up. Sproule said students plan to give 300 on-campus, nonpartisan presentations on ballot measures and how they affect students.
In addition to publishing the OSA Voter Guide, organizers plan to make more than 16,500 phone calls and knock on more than 3,000 doors to urge registered student voters to cast their ballots.
"We know that young volunteers reaching out to their peers is the best way to increase voter registration and mobilization," said Stephanie Erickson of Building Votes, one of the groups active at the UO.