Students launch young voter registration drive

October 25, 1996

The practice of democracy is a lesson many United States university and college students have traditionally failed to learn, writes Jon Marcus.

Twenty-five years after the voting age was lowered to 18, only one in five college-age voters bothers to go to the polls.

But with the cost of higher education a hot political issue in an otherwise lacklustre election season, university students and administrators alike have launched voter education drives. They say that, with 14.5 million students and nearly two million employees, colleges and universities comprise a formidable voting bloc.

Kazim Ali, president of the national student association, said: "Although the national election may not have any fireworks, many of the (congressional) incumbents only squeaked in last time and we're definitely able to make a difference."

The association's voter registration campaign, "Learn to Vote, Vote to Learn", aims to sign up 500,000 students.

Campus representatives attended training sessions in summer and are distributing the voting records of congressional incumbents on education and other issues of student interest. Primary among them, is the availability of government loans to help pay their tuition.

More students are bound to go to the polls this year, said Ali, because "they've seen their college loans threatened and how much that affected them". Forty-eight of the nation's top higher education organisations have launched their own voter registration drive on more than 3,000 campuses, called "Your Vote, Your Voice".

As part of the campaign, hundreds of universities and colleges have included voter registration packages with employee payslips and student course catalogues. The more than 80,000 people who attended a football game between Ohio State and Pennsylvania State received election information with their tickets. The usual activities fair at the College of New Rochelle in New York this autumn had a voter registration table.

Students at Columbia College in Chicago were named deputy registrars authorised to sign up voters. Pace University in New York has linked its World Wide Web site to a voter registration home page.

David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said: "There's a clear feeling among (university and college) presidents that the first obligation of good citizenship is to register and vote and that we need to encourage especially the 18 to 22-year-olds to take that first step."

While the effort is officially non-partisan, said Warren, "issues like student aid are clearly going to be issues that will surface".

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