Students and Women will Play a Vital Role in the Election this Fall

By
October 7, 2004

On college campuses across the nation, students are questioning
their role as voters in the fast-approaching November presidential
elections. Because women register to vote at a higher rate than
men, the U.S. Department of State reports that women voters are of
particular importance in this election and will play a significant
role in determining the outcome.

Current reports show that voter turnout among both college-aged
males and females has declined steadily since 1972. While less than
45 percent of this demographic voted in last year’s election, only
43 percent of women age 18 to 24 turned out at the voting polls in
2000, according to CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research
on Civic Learning and Engagement.

On campus, students as well as faculty and staff have
coordinated events in preparation for election day to increase
involvement and awareness around voter issues. These have included
an on-campus screening of director Michael Moore’s film, Fahrenheit
9/11, a voter issues event at the Art Museum, and a voter
involvement rally during Explosion which featured guest speaker
Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panthers.

Sophomore Gema Ornelas noted a contradiction between what
students often plan to do after college and what they are currently
doing to be involved.

“Take into account the number of students attending school to go
out and make a difference in the world,” Ornelas said. “It is
pathetic that they think they can’t when we are preparing to do
[just] that. We at Mills are about …1,200 people? That’s 1,200
votes.”

The White House Project/ Women’s Leadership Fund based in New
York City reports that in the U.S., which ranks 57th
internationally in women’s political leadership, more than half of
the college-aged women eligible to vote did not do so in 2000. Alma
Flores, a freshman, reflected on these statistics.

“It shows that youth…don’t value the importance of voting-I’m
one of them,” Flores said.

Flores, who does not plan to vote in this presidential election,
said, “My personal life won’t be affected differently. It’s not
that I don’t care-I don’t like what either [presidential candidate]
represents. It’s all false to me.”

CIRCLE’s report indicates that the so-called “voter-apathy”
among college students is linked to their interpretation of how the
electoral system works and relates to their lives. CIRCLE reports
that less than 60 percent of youth believe that government,
politics and elections address the needs of young people, but that
“young women are more likely” to disagree with that sentiment.

Flores thinks that students should first focus on how their own
lives are affected by these issues, primarily on a personal and
community level.

“If more people felt personally involved, great changes can come
about-by small changes individually,” Flores said. “If you take
consideration and know what you want, how you want to be treated,
your community can grow.”

Ornelas said that she thinks students are under-represented in
politics, and that this is for several reasons.

“The political voter scene and political parties are geared
towards older individuals,” Ornelas said. “It’s not ingrained in
you to vote as a kid, as [much] as it is to go and buy
[products.]”

A report by CIRCLE said that policy changes such as allowing
early voting at convenient locations and having voter registration
available at DMV offices are reported to increase the turnout of
college-aged voters.

“States that allow Election Day registration, on average, have
youth voter turnout rates that are 14 percentage points higher,”
said CIRCLE re-searchers Emily Hoban Kirby and Mark Hugo Lopez.

“In states that mailed sample ballots and information about
polling places and extended polling place hours, youth turnout
increased by about 10 percentage points.”

What many analysts label as “voter apathy” among college voters
concerns some students who see it as an issue of social
responsibility- and students like Ornelas would like for more Mills
women to understand the impact of their involvement.

“If you live here and consider yourself a citizen of the world,
community or your home, then you should vote,” Ornelas said. “All
of these issues affect your sisters, your family, and people around
the world. Think about what would have happened if more people
voted [in 2000.] It’s a ripple effect, it affects everyone.”


Students and Women will Play a Vital Role in the Election this Fall was published on October 7, 2004 in News

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