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Ben Thornbrough and Amanda Suram

Friends Ben Thornbrough, 19, and Amanda Suram, 18, are both registered and plan to vote on November 2. Suram says being old enough to vote has made her pay more attention to the issues, and Thornbrough says that it's important to have a say in who is the leader of the country.

Rock stars and universities share common quest: turn out young voters

turn out young voters

By Ann Freeman

Published on October 14, 2004

"Jeopardy" clue: It has only happened eight times in the history of our country. Answer: What is 18- to 20-year-olds voting in a presidential election?

That's right. When America goes to the polls on November 2, it will be just the 9th time young people aged 18 to 20 will have the right to help choose the next leader of the United States.

In 1971, the 26th amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. Yet, historically, our nation's youngest voters (the 18- to 24- year-old voting block) have been the least likely to exercise this civil right that is the cornerstone of democracy. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2000, just 36.1 percent of this age group voted. In comparison, 60.5 percent of citizens aged 35 to 44 voted, and 72.2 percent aged 65 to 74 voted.

But this trend among young people could change this November. With a hotly contested race, the war in Iraq, and a sluggish economy, more and more young people see reason to vote. And the squeaky close 2000 presidential election vividly demonstrated that every vote really does count.

Voting FAQs

As a college student, what town do I vote in?
College students in Minnesota can vote in their hometown (as long as they still have a permanent residence there) in person or by absentee ballot. Or they can vote where they are attending school. They must choose one place to vote; they cannot vote in both locations.

How do I get an absentee ballot?
To request an absentee ballot, contact your city clerk or county auditor. Find your county auditor on the Secretary of State Web site. You can also find a standard absentee ballot request form (pdf).

Where is my polling place?
You will vote at a specified polling place in your neighborhood. Use the Polling Place Finder to find that location or contact your county auditor.

Students living in residence halls on the U's Twin Cities campus can vote at the following places:
Bailey
Falcon Heights City Hall--2077 Larpenteur Ave W., Falcon Heights
Centennial
Centennial Hall Library
Comstock
Coffman Memorial Union
Frontier
Centennial Hall Library
Middlebrook
Seward Towers East--2910 Franklin Ave E., Mpls
Pioneer
Centennial Hall Library
Riverbend
Coffman Memorial Union
Sanford
Coffman Memorial Union
Territorial
Centennial Hall Library
U Village
Sidney Pratt School--66 Malcolm Ave S.E., Mpls
Roy Wilkins
Coffman Memorial Union

Polls indicate that up to 70 percent of people aged 18 to 30 plan to vote on November 2, and that many of these voters are still undecided.

So this election season, young voters are courted by candidates with traditional campaign tactics and by creative non-partisan get-out-the-vote drives that speak their language: a hip-hop music video featuring more than 50 characters from video games; MTV's "Choose or Lose: 20 Million Loud!" campaign; Sean "P. Diddy" Combs hawking "Vote or Die" t-shirts; and rock stars and professional wrestlers crisscrossing the country urging young people to vote.

And universities across the country, including the University of Minnesota, are hotbeds of voter education and registration activity. At the U, a tremendous, nonpartisan get-out-the-vote effort is underway to encourage civic responsibility among students.

The U's Legislative Network is coordinating the effort. Since last August, more than 12,000 voter registration cards have been distributed, including 8,000 cards that were placed in the dorm rooms of incoming students. Events such as debate-watching parties and voting information sessions have been held. Two new polling places have been established on campus to make it easier for students to vote, and a campus-wide e-mail was sent to students, faculty, and staff urging them to vote. A Web site provides voting information (www.umn.edu/groots/vote ). University President Robert Bruininks worked with the Minnesota Secretary of State on a public service announcement where he was featured speaking about the importance of voting.

What do U students have to say? Will they indeed "Rock the Vote"? An informal survey of students studying and hanging out at Coffman Union on the Twin Cities campus just three weeks before the election found that all plan to vote, all but one were registered to vote, and all but one knew which presidential candidate they will vote for on November 2. And 18-year-olds are especially excited that their first voting experience will be in a presidential election. Here's a sampling of what the students had to say about the value of going to the polls:

"I think it's important that everyone votes because [the President] will be making decisions about what happens in our lives. And those decisions will affect our future."
Francine Tolbert, 19, General College

"Every citizen of the United States of America should vote because it is more than a civic duty. We are a voice for change, and if we don't step up and make that change, it will never occur."
Carey Ma, 22, College of Liberal Arts

"I don't think either candidate is great, but you have to make a choice because one will be President and will make decisions on things impacting us like the war in Iraq and jobs."
Mariah Rooney, 19, College of Liberal Arts

"Voting for the first time has made me more aware of the Presidential debates and what's going on. Before, I didn't really bother. Now I do."
Amanda Suram, 18, College of Liberal Arts

"It's important to have a say in who is the leader of this country. If you don't vote, you really can't complain because you didn't do anything."
Ben Thornbrough, 19, College of Liberal Arts

"It's only one vote, but at least I know I put in my choice and voiced my opinion."
Jackie Chapman, 25, School of Pharmacy

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