New Voters Project aimed at college students

by Jasmynne Sloan

The presidential caucuses may be over at Simpson, but campusactivists are just getting started in prodding their fellowstudents to get politically involved.

Several Simpson students are joining the nonpartisan New VotersProject – and getting academic credit – in its campaign to boostthe number of young voters in the 2004 presidential election.

Although the New Voters Project is just getting established atSimpson, sophomore Katy Siddall said she is excited about beinginvolved.

“I like to be politically active,” said Siddall. “I’m reallylooking forward to getting started.”

The New Voters Project is a grassroots campaign aimed at 18 to24-year-olds in Iowa, Colorado, Oregon, Wisconsin, New Mexico andNevada.

The project will try to register 300,000 new voters in thosestates – including 450 at Simpson.

Nick Brinker, campus organizer of the New Voters Project atSimpson, said the best way to reach that many new voters is throughpeer-to-peer contact. And that will require many studentvolunteers.

“Big media campaigns just aren’t as successful as personalcontact,” Brinker said.

Volunteers will try to ask every Simpson student twice toregister to vote on the first day of classes next August. They willalso visit classrooms during the first week of school. Studentswill also conduct a “Get Out The Vote” campaign during the monthleading up to the elections.

Volunteers will tell people when and where to vote throughdoor-to-door contact and an extensive telephone campaign.

Several unpaid internships are available for students working onthe New Voters Project.

Students are required to work 10-12 hours a week on the project,and they will earn three credit hours for their work during fallterm.

Siddall is applying for an internship to gain experience towarda career in political activism.

“I don’t think it will be a lot of work based on how much Ienjoy it and on what I’ve already been doing for the project,” saidSiddall.

Sophomore Maryanne Dyer said the project was worthwhile, but thevisits and phone calls could be irritating.

“The visiting and calling may get old,” said Dyer. “But anymeasure to get more people involved is good.”

Brinker, who graduated from the University of Missouri lastAugust, said he is certain the goal of 450 students can be reachedat Simpson.

“The administration has been very helpful, and students here arepassionate about politics,” said Brinker.

John Epperson, professor of political science, said that hesupports the project but that young voters traditionally have lowvoting rates.

“It’s a valiant effort and it’s an important effort,” saidEpperson. “It is possible that you would have larger than normalnumbers of young voters participate in the general election. But Iwouldn’t bet any money on it.”

Rich Ramos, Simpson’s assistant dean of students who will serveas advisor for the New Voters Project, said the project’snationwide goal is “pretty lofty but not entirely impossible.”

“This election has the potential to be extremely contentious,which may get students out to vote more than in the past,” saidRamos. “The high number of students who showed up at the[statewide] caucuses says a lot about how interested studentsare.”

Dyer is already registered to vote, so she said she won’t pay asmuch attention to the New Voters Project.

She said she’s not sure how effective the project will be ingetting more people registered.

“It is important to vote and have a voice in the country,” saidDyer. “But if people aren’t registered to vote now, I don’t knowwhat incentive this would give them.”

The New Voters Project also tries to reach young people in thecommunity who do not attend college.

Brinker graduated from the University of Missouri-St. Louis lastAugust and began work with the New Voters Project in January.

He knows first-hand how important it is for all young people tovote.

“Everyone needs to be voting,” said Brinker, “Not just collegestudents. We have more at stake than the other generations becauselaws that are passed now will affect us in the future.”

Senior Josh Brown said he agrees. Leader of the Simpson CollegeDemocrats organization and a supporter of presidential candidateJohn Edwards, Brown joined the New Voters Project as soon as he hadtime when the caucuses were over.

“I hope we’ll be effective in getting people to vote,” he said.”What we decide now will definitely affect us later in life.”