Campaign Urges Young Citizens to Cast Ballots

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A diverse coalition of 30 UC Berkeley organizations, led by the ASUC, has established an on-campus campaign to increase student registration and voter turnout for next month's elections.

In the past three weeks, more than 3,000 students have registered to vote at stalls around campus. The stalls will also be set up in Upper Sproul Plaza Monday and Tuesday for the expected last-minute rush of students wanting to register by tomorrow's deadline.

Nick Papas, the ASUC external affairs vice president and coordinator of the student registration campaign, said he believes UC Berkeley students must vote to force the government to address student interests.

"The state and county governments make a tremendous number of decisions that affect the university population, but they don't listen to Cal students because not many of us vote," Papas said. "To make sure our issues are addressed and our interests are protected, we need to get registered and then vote. We're a large population in Berkeley and we can make a major impact if students are mobilized and motivated."

Mikalyn Roberts, the Youth Vote 2000 coordinator for CalPIRG, agreed young people's interests are underrepresented in the government because of their low turnout.

"Things like Medicare and Social Security are big campaign issues because senior citizens have a very high voting percentage," she said. "Politicians don't feel that they need young people's votes to win, so (they) cater their policies to different groups in society."

Aside from on-campus efforts, a number of community groups are attempting to increase voter turnout among young people. For example, Rock the Vote, a non-partisan organization that aims to increase youth participation in politics, has made absentee ballot request forms available online.

Alison Byrne-Fields, the organization's creative director, said the online initiative will be especially useful for college students attending schools out of their home electoral districts.

"We know that young people become involved in politics when the system is accessible to them," she said. "Making absentee ballots more readily available to this group is helping democracy catch up with technology."

Byrne-Fields said she believes first-time presidential voters can play an important role in determining election results.

"In 1992, we learned that the under-20 vote can be an influential swing vote," she said. "In 2000, we hope that an unprecedented number of young people become involved in politics, making ours a system that works for everyone."

California Secretary of State Bill Jones agreed on the importance of a high voting percentage among young people, but acknowledges many feel distanced from the electoral process and governmental decisions.

"One of the most often cited reasons people give for not voting is their sense of futility," Jones said in a statement. "They don't think their vote makes a difference. They claim they have no impact on government (and vice versa). They believe 'special interests' run everything. To those pessimists, skeptics and cynics, I say 'wrong!' There are too many real-life examples where one vote has made the difference."

Jones said he believes while motivating people to vote is largely beyond the government's influence, it can remove many of the procedural obstacles that stop people from casting their ballot.

"The aggressive outreach programs have made registration as convenient as picking up a half gallon of milk on your way home from work," he said. "It couldn't be easier, while still being within the limits necessary to insure against fraud."


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