Impact of students voting in election

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(Host) College students are registering to vote in exceptionally high numbers this year. Because students rarely get polled, the impact of their vote is a big unknown in the 2004 election. How will they affect the outcome on November second?

VPR’s Susan Keese visited two campuses recently, and files this report.

(Sarah Macabee) “Do you solemnly swear that whenever you give your voter’s suffrage touching on any matter that concerns the state of Vermont, you will do it so as in your conscience…”

(Keese) Sarah Macabee and Shira Sternberg have registered a couple hundred students to vote over the past few months, either in Vermont or their own states. Their table in the campus coffee shop is the place to go with questions about absentee ballots and other voting problems.

(Sternberg) “Okay, were you registered in California before?”
(Student) “Yes.”
(Sternberg) “Then you’re fine, you’re still registered there. The best thing to do is call your county clerk.”

(Keese) Shira Sternberg is a Bennington native majoring in politics. She says the closeness of the 2000 election – and the way it was resolved – was a wakeup call for young people. In the college dining hall, student Jamie Marshall Lively agrees.

(Lively) “We’ve seen how easy it is for people to lose the power of their vote. So I do think that students at least seem much more passionate about it.”

(Keese) Dan Briggs says the war is also a big concern.

(Briggs) “I think a lot of students are voting out of genuine fear about what could happen. I mean, everybody knows about the war in Iraq on some level and I think students are generally opposed to it because it’s kids our age that are putting their lives out.”

(Keese) Sternberg, a Democrat, doesn’t think that either presidential candidate can easily solve the problems in Iraq. But she believes the country needs new guidelines for a newly globalized society. And she wants her generation to have a say in what those rules should be.

Sternberg says voter registration at this progressive school will probably help the Kerry ticket. But she says it’s a myth that most students are liberal. She suspects many follow their parents’ lead.

(Sternberg) “But I know that if you go to Virginia, or even New Hampshire – I was in New Hampshire over the weekend – you’re going to find a much more conservative population, even among students.”

(Keese) Southern Vermont College, a few miles down the road, is a more career-oriented school, with more commuting students. Amanda Harrington, who’s studying radiology, is rushing to get her kids at day care. She’s worried about education, medical insurance, the war. She hasn’t decided who she’s going to vote for.

Harrington thinks students are as divided as the rest of the country.

(Harrington) “Some of them, I think, are actually pretty confused and they just basically go on the issues. I mean that’s what I do. I go and like whoever convinces me that they’re going to do a better job, that’s who I vote for.”

(Keese) At Southern Vermont College, two students are leading the push for registration. Chris Malavarca is the student president and a Republican, and Loren Johnson is the vice president and a Democrat.

(Malavarca) “Our political beliefs are totally different. Yes, left wing versus right wing, all the way.”
(Johnson) “But we don’t let that stop us from working together to get the vote out there.
(Malavarca) “Because that’s what we believe in.”

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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