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Will N.H. College Students Turn Out To Vote?

Sheryl Rich-Kern

The election is less than a week away.  And some worry that the majority of eligible voters ages 18 to 29 aren’t bothering to register or vote.  In fact, over the last few decades, the enthusiasm among college voters seems to be slipping. According to a recent poll by the Harvard Institute of Politics, only 48 percent of young adults say they are definitely voting.

Nonetheless, at some campuses in New Hampshire, students are rallying behind their favorite candidates and carrying on heated discussions about the debates.

Neil Levesque directs the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College:

Just on this campus alone, we’ve had almost every major candidate and their surrogates. So they get a chance to have one on one time with these candidates. And that’s going to motivate you to go to the polls and get your friends to go to the polls.

And if there’s anything you can catch at a college campus, it’s infectious enthusiasm.

I’m Lindsey Robinson. I’m a junior politics major and also the chair of the ambassador program at the Institute of Politics. We did a voter registration drive a couple of weeks ago where we went knocking on all the doors on campus and we got a lot of students to register to vote.

One thing students won’t have to consider this year is the need to establish residency in the state.  A judge blocked that Republican-passed state law.  But it’s still difficult to reach students and get them ready and excited to vote.

When you want to do anything, the first thing you do is go online.

That’s Seth Flaxman.  He’s 27 years-old and co-founder of TurboVote. He says voting doesn’t fit the way people under 30 live.

The national non-profit TurboVote (turbovote.org) is working with St. Anselm and close to 60 other colleges around the country, to help students get absentee ballots and receive text messages on where and how to register.

And voting and engaging in democracy is one of the few things that does not start online. One of the things we found is that in order to vote by mail you need to go to three different government websites. And a lot of people our age don’t have stamps, too. I mean, simple things like that are just — alien.

It’s not that the college crowd doesn’t care about politics.  They just have other things on their minds – like how they’re going to pay off their debts and whether they’ll get jobs after graduation.

In Nashua, Rivier University’s student government association conducted its own voter registration drive.

A day or two later, some students are still discussing who they’ll support, while others are more focused on midterms and their social lives.

Jesse McElwaine is a junior from North Carolina.

I’m going to vote this time around and try to convince some of my apathetic friends to vote as well. Sheryl: Does that get you frustrated? McElwaine: Yeah, but some people just don’t care. They don’t really care who wins or who loses. They don’t see the effect on themselves. But I encourage people to vote. I’ve walked around getting people to register.

Brian Troy: I’m a business major, from Keene, New Hampshire. Sheryl: Are you planning on voting? Troy: Umm, I haven’t thought about it yet. I don’t really have an opinion this year, and I’m kindof not going to be active in voting this year. Sheryl: Really? Troy: Yeah. Sheryl: What if you did a little more homework? Troy: That’s true. Yes, I guess if I research more, and found out where they stood, then I’ll do that.

Some young adults like Troy may simply need a nudge from friends, professors — or maybe a reporter — to get out and vote.

But predicting how many do show up at the polls come November sixth is as close a call as the outcomes of this election.

Sheryl Rich-Kern has been contributing stories for NHPR since 2006, covering education, social services, business, health care and an occasional quirky yarn that epitomizes life in New Hampshire. Sherylâââ

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