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Seeking student involvement in fall elections





With predictions for a significantly lower youth voter turnout in the 2012 presidential election than the 2008 election, Fort Hays State University organizations are looking for ways to engage students in the voting process.

For Center for Civic Leadership Project Coordinator Jennifer Verhagen, putting an early focus on student voter registration efforts will be key to her organization's efforts.

Two students, Kelly Nuckolls, El Dorado senior, and Ann Drees, Hays junior, will share the duties of coordinating the American Democracy Project. Events planned for election season include candidate informational sessions and an election watch-party for viewing election results Nov. 6.

Although the upcoming election doesn't seem to hold the same magnetism for students the 2008 election held, as candidates begin to go one-on-one in the debate process, Verhagen said, students might become more caught up in the process.

"We'll try to figure out how to get the students more involved in the election," she said. "It's kind of early to tell what's going to happen. It will be interesting."

A Rock the Vote event, possibly ADP's largest pre-election activity, will be a collaborative effort between ADP and the University Activities Board, Nuckolls said.

With a goal of encouraging student voter turnout in the 2012 election, Nuckolls is moving ahead with ADP plans for the upcoming semester.

"I hope this election year the number of college students who vote will be the highest of any election year thus far," she said.

Increasing student participation in the 2012 election might be an uphill battle. A report released by the Center for the American Electorate said youth voter turnout is predicted to drop significantly in the 2012 U.S. presidential election, due in part to a decline in political interest among young people.

Campus political parties will be working to buck that trend as organizational efforts for Young Democrats and College Republicans will take shape when the semester gets under way. Officer elections are slated to take place soon after school starts.

Young Democrats sponsor Joe Romance, who is the newest faculty member of the political science department, said Young Democrats likely will put their focus in two areas: Helping Democrats win state and local elections and engaging in outreach to other groups such as College Republicans.

Romance said he takes the idea of civic duty seriously, and the health of a democracy hinges on the participation of its citizens.

This election, for students and young people in general, is of particular significance.

"We are still in the grips of an economic dislocation whose effects are still to be determined," he said in an email. "Furthermore, on issues such as the environment and energy, actions (or inaction) taken by the government in the next few years may have tremendous importance for decades to come."

Encouraging students to see past political rhetoric and look for candidates who can deliver campaign promises are concepts Jacob Kessler, current president of College Republicans, hopes his organization can accomplish next semester. Elections for new officers of College Republicans will be a few weeks after the semester starts.

Kessler, a Lakin senior, also served as president of the organization during the 2008 presidential campaign, and said College Republicans likely will put most of its energy into state and local elections, as opposed to the national election.

A lot of the excitement President Barack Obama's campaign generated on campus has faded during the last four years, Kessler said.

"I don't know how that's going to play amongst the college students," he said. "But it could make it a bit more difficult to get kids excited about politics, especially Republicans.

"Romney is a good candidate, but he's not the very flashy type that Obama was."

Polarization of political ideologies and the loss of civility between folks who disagree on politics are other concerns for Kessler, who sees an unwillingness among politicians to sit down and work through issues.

"We need to figure out a way to fix the problems and do it in such a manner that we don't sit at a table screaming at each other," he said. "If you don't respect the person, how can you get in there and talk to them?"