In 2008, young voters helped make Barack Obama the president. Although the high turnout of people aged 18-29 is not expected to be repeated this year, political parties, campaigns and youth organizations are working hard to make sure that young people make their voices and votes heard.
Low turnout rates have always been a pattern with young voters, but Matt Smriga, director of campus organizing with the Minnesota State University Student Association, works to change that. MSUSA is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that educates youth on how to vote and why it’s important.
“Our democracy doesn’t work if people aren’t really paying attention and very few people are showing up to vote,” Smriga said.
Youth confused about how to vote
According to Smriga, the biggest reason young people don’t vote is because of their confusion over the polling process.
“By far the most important thing to do is just educating young people about how to vote — what the process is,” Smriga said. “For whatever reason, that’s incredibly intimidating for someone who has never voted before.”
Younger voters sometimes trivialize the voting process because they don’t know how to navigate it, he said. His job is to devise programs to show them the ropes, in order to make voting more accessible and less complex.
This is why he and MSUSA oppose the Voter ID Amendment that will be on the ballot this November.
“If you add a whole other set of rules, and regulations, and steps that young people need to take, that’s really going to negatively impact their turnout rate,” Smriga said.
Social networking hot tool for campaigns wooing young voters
Meanwhile, presidential campaigns are working on securing the votes of youth. In order to do this, many have tried to reach youth through social networking. Twitter has been the most the most popular platform for outreach, with the Barack Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns both hosting a Twitter account.
The Obama Twitter feed seems designed to appeal to younger voters, tweeting frequent updates related to college costs and job market prospects for college graduates. The Romney Twitter feed focuses more on delivering tributes to veterans and members of the military, as well as criticisms of Obama.
Mike McBride, the Minnesota DFL youth vote coordinator, is visiting high schools and college campuses to help students organize as well as register to vote. He is particularly concerned about educating young voters on the two proposed amendments to the state constitution, the Voter ID Amendment and the Marriage Amendment. He believes both amendments would have a big impact on younger voters and says that they will motivate many college students to vote.
The Republican Party of Minnesota simply affirmed in a phone call that they intend to encourage everyone to vote.
When asked which campaign is doing the best in motivating young voters, students often mention the Ron Paul and Obama campaigns.
Susha Berg, a 20-year-old University of St. Thomas student, said Ron Paul’s message of personal freedom and smaller government appeals to students in their twenties. “I think that their campaign speaks a lot to the problems people that age care about, and they have a lot of young people who are campaigning for them.”
Smriga agreed that Ron Paul’s platform was especially attractive to young voters. “Basically, zero government in a lot of ways is a very revolutionary way of thinking,” he commented, “and that fresh idea appeals to a lot of young people. It’s certainly not the status quo.”
Smriga sees Obama’s charisma as a great draw to youth voters, but he wasn’t so positive about the Romney campaign.
“If someone’s not already predisposed to voting more Republican, it’s going to be really tough to bring those young people into his campaign,” Smriga said.
Why students don’t vote
Despite the reminders about the importance of voting, Ashley Mattson, a 20-year-old political science major at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, isn’t confident that her peers will be voting this November.
“Not a lot of people I know are going to vote this year,” Mattson said. “They don’t like any of the candidates.”
Besides their busy school lives, students cite their relative powerlessness. A single vote doesn’t change the outcome, they say.
Still, Sam Woosley, a 20-year-old student at MCTC, intends to vote this November. “Whether small or large, these things affect you, and you need to be able to voice your opinion,” Woosley affirmed.
His friend, 22-year-old Taha Omer voted in the 2008 elections and will be voting again this year. He believes that voter turnout for the two constitutional amendments will encourage young Minnesotans to vote.
“If you don’t say anything, it’s just going to come right back and bite you,” Omer said.