Focus on student voter registration yields big results
Thousands of Penn students registered to vote thanks to the efforts of Penn Leads the Vote, Penn Democrats and College Republicans
October 9, 2012, 11:20 pm·
The countless people asking students if they’ve registered to vote on Locust Walk and on street corners will not be there today. But their efforts have paid off.
Voter registration in Pennsylvania officially closed Tuesday at midnight.
Penn Leads the Vote sent in 1,498 registration forms as of Tuesday at 6 p.m., according to PLTV Public Relations Chair and College senior Abby Tran.
Penn Democrats registered 1,236 voters from New Student Orientation up to the deadline, and College Republicans held a registration drive last week but did not record numbers. .
This is an increase from 2008, when PLTV sent in approximately 500 registration forms, according to a rough estimate.
This spike is most likely due to an increased emphasis on registration by the student groups this year. Registration efforts have increased significantly compared to years past and have focused on reaching the widest range of potential voters, said Tran, a Daily Pennsylvanian staff member. There has also been a greater variety of registration events. In years past, the group focused more on Election Day turnout, Tran said.
Besides setting up tables in Houston Hall, Locust Walk, 1920 Commons, the Quadrangle and Pottruck Fitness Center, PLTV held events during New Student Orientation including a Student Expo and a Late Night event. They also made presentations to 104 student groups on campus.
For the first time, PLTV partnered with political science professor John DiIulio’s “Elections and Engagement” class to reach more people in the Penn community. In 2008, PLTV partnered with another one of DiIulio’s classes, but participation in registration efforts was not mandatory, unlike this year.
PLTV also held Mobilize 2012 at the end of September, which was bigger than ever before and included a “pledge to vote” campaign.
Other groups have also been busy with voter registration.
Penn Dems Communications Director and College sophomore Zac Krowitz said Penn Dems did not limit themselves to one specific method either. They targeted “different types and different grades of Penn students” by setting up on Locust Walk and outside college houses.
As of Oct. 8, the Pennsylvania Department of State recorded 8,414,764 registered voters in the state and 1,055,319 in the Philadelphia county.
In the state, 37 percent are registered Republicans and 50 percent are registered Democrats. In Philadelphia, 12 percent are registered Republicans, while 78 percent are registered Democrats.
Remaining percentages are voters who are registered with another party or are unaffiliated.
Nine percent of all registered voters in the state are between the ages of 18 and 24, and 11 percent in Philadelphia.
Executive Director of the Fels Institute of Government David Thornburgh commented on the importance of the youth demographic in the upcoming election.
“The 2008 election demonstrated how significant the 18 to 29 vote is in the presidential election. You know Obama won 53 percent of the popular vote but 68 percent of the youth vote. That was the big story of 2008,” he said.
Conventional wisdom is that the youth vote will not be as significant this time around, he added.
Although Thornburgh does not discount the studies that have predicted a lower youth turnout, he is doing a 60-second lecture today on his belief that the “conventional wisdom may be wrong.
“Once people are engaged in the process and they actually do go vote, I think that there is a stronger likelihood that they will remain engaged,” he said, “The process of registering people to vote is a disciplined organized process. The Obama campaign built that machine and built that discipline in 2008. They have only gotten more organized and more methodical.”
Penn Dems and PLTV are pleased with their efforts. “It’s been one of the focal points of what we have been trying to do on campus. Registering people to vote is one of the most important ways to keep students on campus involved,” Krowitz said.
Similarly, Tran said PLTV is “psyched” about their numbers.
Thornburgh believes that student groups have learned from the lessons of 2008. “The single most important factor that influences people and encourages them to vote is when other people ask them,” he said. “It is not the billboards, it is not the famous celebrities. It is the eye contact.”