This semester, student political groups Penn Leads the Vote and Penn Democrats registered a combined 1,341 students to vote in the upcoming midterm elections. At just 180 short of the 1,521 student voters in 2006, the numbers suggest potential for high voter turnout. The number does not include students who registered last semester, sent registration forms through the mail themselves and students who did not need to re-register due to a change of address.
These high registration numbers are promising, according to Peter Levine, director of the Tufts University-based Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, which studies youth voting trends.
According to CIRCLE’s analysis of Census 2010 data, 86.8 percent of college students who were registered in 2008 actually voted, and “most of the pundits’ chatter about low interest by young people is either mere speculation or comes from comparing 2010 to the height of the 2008 presidential campaign,” Levine wrote in an e-mail.
However, he also cautioned against conflating a higher registration rate with a larger number of registrations done by organizers. “Lots of people do not register through groups, and sometimes when organizations register people, those people would have registered anyway,” Levine wrote.
According to Penn Dems President and College junior Emma Ellman-Golan, the group registered 250 new voters and re-registered 250 students whose addresses had changed.
“We’re really glad to see registration numbers go up,” Ellman-Golan said, adding that “young people traditionally vote Democrat, and I don’t think that’s changing this year.”
Pennsylvania State Coordinator for nonpartisan youth mobilizer Rock the Vote Colin Hicks was not able to release the number of students RTV registered this semester. However, he said, part of what contributes to Penn’s high registration numbers is that the election season has become a “tradition.”
Whereas mobilization efforts at Penn and other relatively small universities seem easier to manage, “at a large public university with 30 or 40 thousand students, it’s much more of a task — you probably need a much larger organization and you may even need help from the [school’s] administration to reach the percentage you get at Penn,” Hicks said.
Rock the Vote’s Vice President of Civic Engagement Thomas Bates said high voter registration numbers are not limited to Penn. “We’re still registering several thousands a day in California, whose registration deadline is October 18th, and the same increases are happening all around the country,” Bates said.
He also said RTV registered over 250,000 young voters nationwide this election cycle, including 15,000 in Pennsylvania — the organization’s largest midterm outreach effort in its 20-year history.
Bates believes part of the reason for 2010’s youth voter registration numbers is the large media attention surrounding some of the elections. “We see a good turnout registration-wise in places where there’s a lot on the line,” he said, citing the competitive Pennsylvanian Senate race and the ballot measure in California to legalize marijuana.
However, Bates believes politicians have been “late to the game” in reaching out to young voters. “I would say we’re not seeing as much youth focus this year compared to 2008 and even 2006,” he said, adding that though President Barack Obama appears to be reaching out to young voters in the weeks preceding the election, “our hope is that all candidates end up taking this approach throughout the year.”Comments powered by Disqus
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