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Students nationwide vote in 'year of the youth'

Reilly Center forum
The Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs sponsored an open dialogue between students of all political views called “Are You Red or Are You Blue?” on Tuesday, Oct. 28. Members of several campus and community organizations served as members of the discussion panel.

The 1972 election was the first to include 18-year olds. In prior elections, voters had to be 21. Since the race of ’72, candidates have struggled to convince young people to go to the polls, or even to register. The story is different this year.

Of course, there is a first time for everything. For many young voters, this will be their first election—it's an exciting one, to say the least. It’s difficult to pinpoint what got the stir among youth started. One thing is certain for these young voters: this could be their year.

The 2008 election is already historic because of its many firsts. It’s the first time two sitting United States senators will run against each other for president. It’s the first time an African American is a presidential nominee for a major party and the first Republican woman vice-presidential nominee. The Republican presidential candidate would be the oldest first-term president. It’s also the first time both major candidates were born outside the continental U.S.

The historic firsts in this election have resulted in a registration surge among non-whites, women, and those ages 18-29.

According to statistics from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, between 1972 and 2000, turnout among 18-24 year olds declined by 16 percent. However, 2004 brought an 11-percent increase in youth voting.

Some say 2008 is “the year of the youth,” with more than 6.5 million young participants in the presidential primary campaign.

According to Rock the Vote, an organization determined to energize young voters, they have registered more than 2.3 million voters this year, up from the 1.4 million in 2004.

“My dad encouraged me to register to vote,” English freshman Tanya Dupuy said. “He is really into politics and I’m getting more informed.” Dupuy will be voting for the first time Tuesday.

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Complete up-to-the-minute returns are available from the online Elections Returns Database as soon as they are transmitted electronically by local elections officials to the state elections system. The database can also be used to access archived results for previous elections.
Many University students took advantage of registering on campus. Several colleges, along with the Reilly Center held events encouraging students to register before the Oct. 6 deadline.

“I was able to register myself at the School of Mass Communication,” mass communication freshman Lauren Trahan said. Trahan will also vote for the first time Tuesday.

Other students were able to register at their high schools or through driver’s license renewal. The registration surge is prevalent in technology used by young people– Twitter, Facebook, and text messaging.

Aside from the excitement of being a first-time voter, students seem to be enthused by a number of topics in this election.

“I think young people are energized by the politicians themselves,” Trahan said. “They are asking for our votes. It’s been a change coming for a long time.”

Some are getting involved because of the political platforms.

“This election has been more publicized,” Ben Bourgeois, mechanical engineering freshman said. “Younger voters can see the issues that are at stake in this election.” While this is his first election, Bourgeois participated in early voting.

In an article written for West Virginia CBS affiliate WTRF, “Historic Election Causes Young Voters to get Involved,” Jim Forbes writes, “Regardless of your political leanings, the fact that this election is creating new enthusiasm for young people to become involved in the political process is something we can all vote for.”

The issues facing young voters may be the reason 20-somethings turned in their registration cards.

“In this election, I’m looking at a candidate’s policies toward Iraq,” Trahan said. “Their plans for the economy are important, too. We have to think about the job market when we leave LSU.”

While first-time voters share their excitement like kids in a candy store, their opinions on platforms are serious. With issues ranging from energy and immigration to Iran and taxes, nearly all of the students interviewed agreed the economy was one of their top concerns.

A CNN special report on battleground voters, named the economy as the top issue in the presidential election even before the current economic crisis.

For some University students, political science classes helped them see voting issues clearly.

“My political science class didn’t make or change my decision,” Dupuy said. “But it helped me look at certain issues more.”

Josh Chevallier, a history sophomore, said his American politics class helped him become more informed.

“Instead of just making a general statement, my class has forced me to find better claims to back up my arguments,” Chevallier said.

While voter registration has seen a record surge this election, some wonder if the younger population will make it to the polls Nov. 4. If they actually vote, their opinions could be the ones filling the Oval Office. This is especially true for battleground states.

Rock the Vote reports, “Young voter turnout is one of the top headlines of 2008: turnout doubled and tripled in early ’08 contests.”

Louisiana isn’t left out of the statistic, boasting a 131 percent increase, which translates to 30,886 newly registered 18-29 year olds who participated in the presidential primaries.

Ohio, Michigan, and Virginia have large student populations, all with campus political groups attempting to reach their peers. Some groups are offering bus rides to the polls on Tuesday, while a school in Florida canceled classes last week so students could vote early.

At LSU, an open dialogue between students of all political views called “Are You Red or Are You Blue?” was hosted last Tuesday in the Journalism Building. The program consisted of student-led discussion about issues relevant to the election.

According to an article by the Associated Press, “Youth voters could rock the polls this year,” a recent tally shows 9 percent of North Carolina’s voters are 20-somethings and they could be a difference-maker in a close race.

The article also states young voters are feeling barriers from voting that may affect their turnout. Students have been complaining about everything from registration requirements to fliers that falsely tell college students they will lose their student loans if they do not vote in their home state.

Chevallier said he is facing difficulties with the absentee vote in his home state of Texas. This is Chevallier’s first election.

“We will see how many young voters actually vote,” Chevallier said. “It’s a challenge for us to vote because of state requirements and registration deadlines.”

Some University students voted early and others are anticipating Tuesday for an opportunity to be heard, stating voting as a civic duty.

“It’s your responsibility to do it,” Dupuy said. “Not just your right.”

For information on voter registration and where to vote visit www.sos.louisiana.gov.

Holly A. Phillips | Web Editor | LSU Office of Public Affairs
Fall 2008

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