Organizations focus on getting out the younger vote

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With the youngest part of the electorate notoriously apathetic on Election Day, nonpartisan organizations hope to educate young voters and change attitudes on a local and national scale in preparation for Nov. 7.

The Ad Council is working with the Federal Voting Assistance Program to generate interest and emphasize the importance of voting, especially among college-age citizens.

The national public service announcement campaign, called “Pay Attention and Vote,” targets 18- to 30-year-olds, a valuable and often untapped voter population.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19.4 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted in the 2002 midterm election, making that demographic the most under-represented at the polls.

Michelle Hillman, Ad Council vice president and campaign director for “Pay Attention and Vote,” said the Ad Council conducted research to gain information about the target demographic that proved valuable in deciding how to approach young voters.

This campaign presents mock candidates at its Web site, such as “side of hash browns,” “bag of leaves” and “tacky ceramic rooster,” and uses the tagline, “If you’re not voting, who are you electing?”

These public service announcements are distributed through media including print, online, television and radio.

The campaign focuses broadly on creating awareness of the power of civic engagement in a democratic society.

“Our goal is to help create a generation of voters,” Hillman said.

New Voters Project
Another organization, the New Voters Project, is focusing on college-age voters this election year.

The project began as a grassroots campaign in 2004 to approach students on campuses and at social events.

Student public interest research groups developed the project, but it receives funding in part from The Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit organization committed to encouraging civic engagement.

Michael Caudell-Feagen, Pew senior program officer, said the organization thought it was important to endow funds to promote the health of American democracy.

“The habits of citizenship develop early in life,” he said. “It (is) important to engage voters at an early age.”

According to Tina Post, communications director of the New Voters Project, initial efforts registered 524,000 young voters for the last presidential elections, making it the largest nonpartisan, youth-motivated movement in history.

Post detailed the importance of involving as many young people as possible in the electoral process.

“The youth vote in America is primed to become an important constituency,” she said. “By 2015, 18- to 35-year-olds will represent one-third of the electorate.”

The group also has a broader mission of encouraging the integration of involvement into the lifestyles of young people, Post said.

“It’s important for young people to be civically engaged,” she said. “It’s something that’s important for the rest of your life.”

Kiffmeyer and WWE
Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer is affiliated with a campaign launched in 2000 that targets the same age bracket in a different way.

Kiffmeyer and other state secretaries partnered with World Wrestling Entertainment in the “Smackdown Your Vote” campaign.

Gary Davis, president of the campaign, said the aim is to engage young people in democracy.

“When you look at our country and how the political system works, the only way to make a difference is to cast a vote,” Davis said. “We try to find different ways to reach out to young adults that complement what other (organizations) are doing.”

The wrestling organization sends star wrestlers to high school and college campuses to encourage young people to vote.

Kiffmeyer said the hardest demographic to reach is high school graduates who do not attend college. The wrestling organization often reaches those fitting that profile, she said.

The wrestling organization works alongside eight other organizations to release a national voter issues paper targeted at 18- to 30-year-olds outlining key issues in upcoming elections and lists pressing questions for politicians.

Voting Information On the Web
For voting information in all states, “click here”:http://www.Payattention.org
– For more information on the National Voter Issues Paper, “click here”:http://www.18to35.org
– For more information on the Smack Down Your Vote, “click here”:http://www.SmackdownYourVote.com
– For voting registration information, “click here”:http://www.NewVotersProject.org

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