University of Wisconsin-River Falls

News Source

September 3, 2004


Fall Brings First-time Voting Opportunities for Students

For most of the 5,900 students enrolled at UW-River Falls, the year potentially will mark another milestone: voting in a U.S. presidential election for the first time. To help educate students about their rights and responsibilities as voters, UW-River Falls is participating in the New Voters Project aimed at mobilizing two million 18-to-24-year-old voters in six states including Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada and Oregon.

This historic nonpartisan effort will use state-of the art campaign efforts such as email, door-to-door, event and peer-to-peer canvassing, phone banking, precinct mobilization as well as on-campus and public venue voter registration. Organizers say it is the largest youth voter mobilization campaign in history.

"We are combining the leading research in grassroots mobilization with the best practices of the campaign world to bring a critical group of new voters to the polls," said Christopher Arterton, dean of the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, one of the co-organizers.

Targeting the student population is coordinated locally through the University's involvement in Campus Compact, a national association of college and university presidents who work to support community service and active citizenship, according to Mark Kinders, director of Public Affairs at UW-RF and coordinator of the New Voters Project on campus.

Organizers will also target non-student youth populations by door-to-door and large public event canvassing and entertainment promotion partnerships. "For the first time in 30 years, college students can be one of the most important constituent group in determining the outcome of the presidential and national elections," said Kinders. "Candidates want their vote. We hope that the New Voters Project will help our students to become engaged, informed and then to participate in the election."

With a campus on the west-central Wisconsin border that is part of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, the student body also includes a sizable portion from Minnesota, which also is a targeted swing state in the presidential campaign. A committee worked throughout the summer to find ways to ensure students are aware of the voter registration and voting process, says Kinders.

The theme is "Red, White and You: the New Voters Project.: As a result, there will be information available to new students during student orientation week as well as displays and extensive registration opportunities in the Student Center during the semester.

Numerous speakers are slated to visit UW-River Falls to talk to the students and the community about the importance of voting. All of the presentations are free and open to the public.

These include:
Sept. 20: Professor Rodney Hero. As a published author and political science chair at Norte Dame University, Hero specializes in Federalism and U.S. democracy concerning Latino, ethnic/minority and state/urban politics. He will speak from 9-10 a.m. in the Regents Room of the Student Center.
Sept. 27: "Voting Maters: Living and Voting in a Battleground State." The College of Arts and Sciences is holding a panel discussion by political science faculty about the importance of voting in the swing states of Wisconsin and Minnesota. It is set for 7-8:30 p.m. River Falls Public Library.
Oct. 12: Harvard Professor Thomas Patterson, award-winning author of "The Vanishing Voter: Public Involvement in an Age of Uncertainty." Patterson wrote a penetrating analysis of why Americans are voting at historically low rates and why audiences for televised presidential debates have declined by half.
Also expected to speak is U.S. Rep. Mark Green, R-Green Bay, a majority whip in the House. The Student Senate also has issued invitations for visits to campus by President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry.

Scheduling of a special "Rock the Vote" comedy troupe and voter registration team also will occur in October.

Also, a "Voter Palooza" between Oct. 4-16 also will be held with bands, spekaers, entertainment and voter registration activities on campus. Students can also find information on a new Web site (www.uwrf.edu//newvoter).

Including voter registration and absentee voting procedures in Wisconsin and Minnesota, how to determine state and federal office candidates for students' home address, and public policy issues and political party website links. With almost 24 million 18-to-24-year-old voters in the United States, young people make up a significant voting bloc.

"Since the strength of a democracy is measured by the participation of its citizens, the New Voters Project will work toward a bright future for America, activating young adults to drive the very engine of our democracy and cast their votes," says Jessy Tolkan, state-wide campus director of the project.

The project's overall goal is to increase youth voter turnout in the six states by five percentage points. Research shows that only 34 percent of age 18-to-24-year-olds voted in the 2000 presidential election, compared with 70 percent of citizens aged 25 and up.

Young Wisconsin voters, however, defy the national norm. Students in a UW-RF consumer behavior class taught by Patty Ridley during spring semester researched behavior of Wisconsin's 18-to-24-year-old voters. According to the class, about 56 percent of Wisconsin's young people voted in the 2000 elections as compared.

The New Voters Project is coordinated nationally by George Washington University and the State Public Interest Research Groups, a national network of state-based public interest advocacy organizations. Funding is provided by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The project's advisory committee includes President Gerald Ford, Vice President Walter Mondale, and former Republican/Democratic national convention chairs Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. and Don Fowler. The project's partners include MTV, World Wrestling Entertainment, Rock the Vote, Cast the Vote, Campaign for Young Voters, Campus Compact, Youth Vote Coalition among others.

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