Students Get Political

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Many college students will vote for the first time today in what could be a record turnout of youth voters.

Since the beginning of the school year a series of events at Sarah Lawrence have been building awareness and anticipation about the 2008 presidential election.

The importance of the youth vote was highlighted at a September panel on vote suppression. The Obama campaign has made a massive effort to mobilize new voters, especially the younger generation, the panelists said, and young voters turned out in record-breaking numbers for the primaries and caucuses.

Despite their enthusiasm, students often face obstacles to casting ballots, explained Lorraine Minnite, a professor of political science at Barnard College. “Students are vulnerable. They may be new voters, they may not know where to go, they may not have the right ID, they might be easily frustrated or intimidated.”

One of the main challenges students face is that the requirements on absentee voting vary from state to state. Some students must vote absentee, while others are allowed to register with their college address.

In order to help fellow classmates let their voices be heard, the SLC Democrats organized several successful voter-registration campaigns and helped clarify the different regulations. The student group also handed out absentee-ballot request forms, registered voters at the Pub, and set up a Web site where students could request forms.

The results of campaigns such as these are significant. In a story on student voter registration drives throughout the area, Westchester Channel 12 News reported that about 12,000 young voters cast a ballot in 2004. This year, in contrast, more than 55,000 young people have registered to vote.

The SLC Democrats also hosted successful debate-watching parties in Reisinger Auditorium.

Neil Makhija, co-chair of the group, described the response as “phenomenal.” The auditorium was filled to capacity and even overflowing for some of the events, he said.

The students held bake sales at the debates, raising a total of $2,000. The money was used to send volunteers to Ohio and Pennsylvania, where SLC students knocked on more than 800 doors and made hundreds of phone calls.

Continuing the political discussion on campus, the College held an election symposium on November 3. Four faculty members from across the disciplines discussed the intellectual and political stakes in the elections and their perspectives on the candidates and their campaigns.

Later this month New York Times columnist Bob Herbert will visit campus to give a talk about the outcome of the election and help shed light on the challenges facing the new president.

But today the SLC Democrats are in Pennsylvania for the final push in that swing state. Meanwhile, students on campus will share the excitement at a Community Election Watch sponsored by the Student Engagement Fund, gathering under the tent on Westlands Lawn to watch the results of this historic election on a big-screen TV.

—Sophia Kelley MFA ’10
November 4, 2008