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Published: Monday, 10/4/2004

Area collegians ask peers to vote Nov. 2

BY KIM BATES
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Signs in dorm room windows on the Bowling Green State University campus remind students of the Nov. 2 presidential election. Some students have been registering their peers during on-campus drives at BGSU amd at the University of Toledo and Tiffin University in Tiffin. Signs in dorm room windows on the Bowling Green State University campus remind students of the Nov. 2 presidential election. Some students have been registering their peers during on-campus drives at BGSU amd at the University of Toledo and Tiffin University in Tiffin.
MORRISON / BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

Don't talk to Katie Hartwell about college student voter apathy.

As she sees it, fellow students at Bowling Green State University are mobilizing this year to register voters who will cast their first presidential vote.

If that's not enough to bring students to the polls, she said other concerns might: the war, higher education funding, the marriage amendment, and even unrest over city ordinances that affect them.

"People are so much more willing to register. They're saying, 'I want to register. Where can I?' " said Ms. Hartwell, 21, president of the college Democrats. "I think the apathy's starting to go away."

But whether her optimism will be enough to sway historically uninterested college voters into action has yet to be seen.

Today is the last day to register to vote, with boards of elections keeping their doors open until 9 tonight. Beginning tomorrow, Ms. Hartwell's next and perhaps biggest challenge will begin: She needs to make sure those young registered voters actually head to the polls or fill out and mail their absentee ballots.

That's one of the main concerns for Monika Winkler, president of the BGSU Republicans, who plan to contact their peers in the campus dorms.

"It's more of a friendly, personal contact," Miss Winkler said.

She also said her group intends to set up rides to get BGSU voters to the polls off campus.

"The trick is getting them out to vote," said Debbie Hazard, deputy director of the Wood County Board of Elections, who has worked with the student groups. "There is more to the process than just registering."

In the last presidential election, the BGSU polling place where on-campus students vote reported a 23 percent turnout, compared to 62 percent across Wood County.

So far this year, the number of registered voters on campus - about 2,800 so far - is lower than in the last presidential election, though election officials said the past higher numbers may have been deceiving because they likely included old names of students who later were purged from the system.

An even more unpromising result was tallied recently at the University of Toledo, where a week-long voter registration effort included an appearance by Andre Heinz, stepson of presidential candidate John Kerry, who urged students to register, regardless of whom they support.

The goal of the Undergraduate Student Government was to register 2,004 voters on the campus of more than 19,000 students. Only 350 students signed up.

Guy Beeman, president of the group, said reasons for the low numbers included other student organizations that orchestrated similar efforts and the belief that many students already had registered. He said voter apathy is still present, though.

"I think in these days and ages, a lot of students don't like to be involved in politics," he said.

In the last presidential election, 42 percent of U.S. citizens ages of 18 to 24 voted, while 70 percent of those ages 25 and older cast a ballot.

At UT and BGSU, and at some smaller colleges and universities, voter registration tables have been commonplace in recent weeks. At Tiffin University in Seneca County, a table was set up in the student center.

Another focal point for getting students interested in politics was a debate watch Thursday. Tiffin University was the only registered site in the area by the Commission on Presidential Debates to view and give feedback on the first presidential debate.

"There's a lot of interest on our campus. I think students are very aware it's an important election year and there are issues they're interested in," said Scott Britten, a TU communications professor.

Universities that get federal funding also are charged through the Higher Education Act with requesting voter-registration forms for their students at least 120 days before the registration deadline, and making a good-faith effort to distribute the forms. A recent survey by Harvard University's Institute of Politics and The Chronicle showed 35 percent of colleges were not working to register students to comply with the act.

BGSU officials said they have two locations where voter registration forms have been available to students and faculty.

At UT, the university has relied heavily on efforts from student groups, but forms were available. The center also supported the efforts of student Jessica Sutherland, 21, who successfully registered more than 175 students on her own.

Ms. Sutherland didn't stop there, though. She plans to place every person she helped to register on an e-mail list and will send them constant reminders to vote as Election Day draws closer.

The same type of effort will be happening elsewhere, from one-on-one talks directly with students in the dorms to regular political debates.

The showing of the movie Farenheit 9/11 at BGSU the week before the election also is expected to spark interest in the election, Ms. Hartwell said.

Contact Kim Bates at: kimbates@theblade.com or 419-724-6074.



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