As a tight presidential election approaches and political parties are looking everywhere for extra votes, college students are no longer a forgotten constituent group.

As a tight presidential election approaches and political parties are looking everywhere for extra votes, college students are no longer a forgotten constituent group.

“(College students) will definitely have an influence on this election,” said Stephanie Young, a Rock the Vote communications associate.

“They’ve established themselves to become a political powerhouse in this country and people need to take heed and realize the strength we have in numbers,” she said.

Rock the Vote, a national nonprofit organization, uses music, popular culture and Web sites such as Facebook and MySpace to encourage young people to register and then vote.

The push to get young people to the polls is apparent in smaller communities as well. Colleges, civic organizations and political parties are all taking part in the push to action.

And in some cases, efforts might be working.

“I think it’s really important because we’ll be choosing our president for the next four years,” said Catelyn Hartwig, a senior at Utica College in Utica, N.Y. Hartwig called herself conservative but said she doesn’t follow party lines.

Hartwig’s fervor for voting didn’t translate into strong support for either candidate.

“It’s hard right now because we don’t have two good candidates,” she said.

But whether students’ opinions on the candidates were strong or as ambivalent as Hartwig’s, volunteers worked to help students express them Wednesday.

At Utica College’s Strebel Student Center, two members of the League of Women Voters were there to help students register to vote.

Getting those students registered might be an easier task than it has in other election years.
Young people are particularly energized this election because of the influence of Barack Obama, said Richard Niemi, a professor of political science at the University of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y.

“After (the 2000 presidential election), no one thinks it’s trivial to say that every vote counts,” Niemi said.

Voting registration among 18- to 29-year-olds has shot up in recent years, Young said.

In order to continue that trend, Utica College has become more aggressive.

The college has hired a limousine company to shuttle students from its student center to voting places around the area Nov. 4.

Doing so might lend to the election buzz.

“I believe (the student population) is really excited,” said Maureen Murphy, assistant director of student activities at Utica College.

Kendra Arzu, a senior on the senate’s elections board, said the student body seemed engaged in the elections.

“We have a large amount of government majors, especially in the senate, and we’re all debating,” she said.

Chelsea Cota, a sophomore on the senate’s elections board, said her involvement with the senate compelled her to pay attention to politics.

“(Voting is) one of the most important things a student should be involved with,” she said. “If they want to (complain) they should at least be active about it.”

Utica College students and staff weren’t alone in encouraging student voting.

The State University of New York Institute of Technology in Utica held an all-day session before the state’s presidential primaries Feb. 5. During the session, college officials encouraged students to get involved.

More recently, they’ve also made voting materials available throughout the campus and have conducted registration drives similar to the one at Utica College.

“I think, more so than ever, young people across the campus and nation are interested in participating in the election,” said Bill Murabito, vice president for student affairs and enrollment management at SUNYIT. “It’s a hot topic.”

Local political parties are trying to engage young potential voters as well.

“We want to get people in the habit of voting as soon as they can,” Oneida County Democratic Party Chairman Bill Morris II said. “(After college) real life gets in the way and a lot of things can keep you from voting.

“We want to get people in the habit of getting to the polls every year.”

Jack Karwacki, chairman of the Young Republicans of Oneida County, said he works with younger possible voters on a more informal basis to educate them on Republican values. Those values include education on voting, he said.

“I have a lot of friends who I grew up with and I always say to them, every non-vote is a vote for someone else,” he said. “They get that.”

Both parties will be working with like-minded groups at various college campuses this fall to encourage interest in the coming election.

Eli Little, a Utica College sophomore, was on hand at Wednesday’s voter registration.

“To me, I’m just a vote,” he said. “But if everybody votes, there’s always a chance for change.”

Observer-Dispatch