September 30, 2004

Vote Drive Registers Students

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Yesterday was National Youth and Student Voter Registration Day. However, there wasn’t a single table on Ho Plaza devoted to this cause. How did such a gross oversight occur on such a politically active campus? Simple, Cornell students are always one step ahead of the competition. The big voter registration drive on our campus was last week.

National Youth and Voter Registration Day gives young adults a chance to get involved in the political process by registering other people to vote, and encouraging them to do so. The idea grew out of a non-partisan campaign run by the Children’s Defense Fund called “Children Can’t Vote. You Can.” According to Wylie Chen, national youth and student outreach coordinator for the CDF, the goal of the “Children Can’t Vote” campaign is to “reach out to underrepresented groups … [such as various minority groups] … who have low voter turnout.”

During the course of this campaign, the CDF realized that there was also a trend of low voter turnout amongst the younger population in general. According to Chen, there are currently 23.9 million eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 24, the highest number ever for that age range.

“Yet,” Chen explained, during the last decade “the percentage of voters year after year has declined. We want to make sure that this year that doesn’t happen.” National Youth and Voter Registration Day was created to reverse the trend. The event is co-sponsored by the CDF and 22 other non-profit organizations, including the NAACP and the Center for Community Change.

Projects that were undertaken as part of the day varied “depending on which school and which students were involved,” Chen explained. Most were like the one held at George Mason University, where students went out on campus to register their fellow classmates. However, some people took the event out into their local communities. For example, students at the University of Houston went door-to-door in poorer neighborhoods of the city, and groups in other locations set up displays in high-traffic areas such as subway stations.

Although there was little activity yesterday, Delta Sigma Theta sorority led a large voter registration drive on campus last week. Members of the sorority and other volunteers were available on Ho Plaza and outside of Trillium to help students register to vote for the first time, switch their place of registration to Tompkins County or apply for absentee ballots. Members of Delta Sigma Theta could not be reached for comment at the time this article was written.

Chen had no exact numbers on how many groups participated, since each co-sponsoring organization was in charge of recruiting its own members. However, he did say that there were over 60 colleges and universities, as well as variety of high schools and youth groups, that had become involved through the CDF alone. Similarly, at the time The Sun spoke with him, he didn’t have final data on how many voters had been registered as a result of this effort.

However, he did say that they had been “getting some great reports back.”

Since the 18 to 24 age range tends to more liberal than older demographic groups, other attempts to increase their involvement in politics, such as MTV’s “Rock the Vote” campaign, have sometimes been accused of not being truly non-partisan. Their opponents argue that by recruiting younger voters they are in effect swinging the vote towards the Democratic Party. However, Chen defended the CDF’s claim that National Youth and Student Voter Registration Day is a non-partisan event.

“Our role is not to swing the campaign,” Chen explained. “It’s just to reach out to under-represented groups — to connect the disconnected.”

Of course, National Youth and Voter Registration Day is only one of many projects that the CDF runs as part of their mission to “ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start, and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood.”

They are also involved in a variety of fields such as policy, advocacy and education. As Chen put it, “[the CDF] believes that children don’t come in pieces.” Instead, they work to address problems from all angles.

According to the CDF’s website, they recently drafted the “Act to Leave No Child Behind” (not to be confused with President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind Act”), and published a report entitled “The State of America’s Children 2004,” which provides “a comprehensive examination of how children are faring in our country.”

The results of that examination are not as positive as one might hope. Currently, there are about 13 million children living in poverty, and 9 million who are without health insurance.

“This is unacceptable in the wealthiest nation in the world,” Chen explained. “We want to make sure that those who can’t look after themselves are taken care of.”

Archived article by Courtney Potts
Sun Staff Writer