Friday, October 29, 2010

Young People Need to Get Out and Vote


By Michael Wong and Twyla Haggerty

Candidate signs are affixed on every street corner. Ballot information fills our mailboxes daily. Phone calls crowd our voice mail. And of course ads, ads, and more ads every time we turn on our favorite television show.

While Arizona voters are inundated with campaign materials and pundit speculation, the Arizona Student Vote Coalition is one group that doesn’t worry about the polls or how young people vote – we just want them to vote.

The Arizona Student Vote Coalition, comprised of the Arizona Public Interest Research Group, the Arizona Students’ Association and the University Student Governments, has been working since 2004 to significantly boost youth voting.

There are three important reasons to increase voter participation among young people. First, young people are the generation that will be most impacted by pressing issues in Arizona (the economy, college affordability and transportation). By engaging us now, it is more likely that we will be a driving force towards the solutions to these issues. Second, we are a big and growing portion of the electorate (nearly 25 percent in 2008) and as such we have the potential to make big impacts on these issues. Third, youth voting habits are formed early, so getting more young people to vote now results in a more active citizenry for the future.

Although some cynics believe that young people don’t care about anything but themselves and their electronics, the facts show otherwise.

In 2004, young voter turnout surged nine percent, an increase three times that of the general population. In 2006, the youth vote increased again -- growing by two million votes. In 2008, the number of voters under 30 who showed up at the polls increased by approximately 11 percent, while the number of older voters who cast a ballot increased by only three percent. Young people as a percentage of overall turn-out in Arizona increased on both sides of the aisle in 2008 over previous levels (Republicans – 12 percent in 2008 from 10 percent in 2000; and Democrats – 10 percent in 2008 from seven percent in 2004).

Yet, even with these encouraging increases in turnout, overall youth voter turnout still remains too low.

Studies suggest that a large-scale peer-to-peer effort of voter contact targeted at young people can make a significant difference in the turnout rate of young voters.

Putting that research into practice, in the months leading up to the election, hundreds of students have reached out to peers on college campuses across the state to register them and get them to vote on Election Day. We have helped bring together a large, diverse coalition of partners – from the College Republicans and Young Democrats, to fraternities and sororities. We are speaking in classrooms, storming the dorms, and holding events to make sure young voters in Arizona show up on Election Day.

As the campaign season becomes more polarizing the closer we get to Election Day, one unifying message we hope all Arizonans will promote is that young people (and others) need to vote!
Wong and Haggerty are co-chairs of the Arizona Student Vote Coalition.
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