An unusually balmy October day in Ann Arbor yesterday begged
dozens of students to study outside, while teams of student
activists — who stopped registering student voters after the
Oct. 4 deadline — found new life to their causes by making
sure the students who are registered actually hit the polls.

A host of organizations pitched camp in the middle of campus to
spread information on how to vote and solicit students’ votes
for specific candidates and issues, covering a range of political
stripes.

After registering more than 10,000 new voters — about
2,500 more than it recruited during the 2000 presidential election
— members of the Michigan Student Assembly’s
nonpartisan Voice Your Vote initiative have increased their
presence on the Diag over the past two weeks.

It’s a mission that goes beyond handing out quarter-sheets
and catching students as they breeze through the Diag on their way
to class, although group members continue to use these tactics.
Voice Your Vote yesterday set up a mock “beer pong”
table, with cups of root beer and ping-pong balls emblazoned with
the group’s logo and Internet address,
“MGoVote.com,” which students can visit to find out
their polling locations and requirements for voting at Ann Arbor
polls.

Members have also received University permission to send a
campus-wide e-mail encouraging students to vote. The Division of
Student Affairs has also allowed the group to hang one of its
banners on the outer walls of the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library,
and members have been trading shifts on the phones to contact
students in residence halls.

“Everyone says the main reason people our age don’t
vote is because they forget,” said Aaron Holman, Voice Your
Vote member and LSA senior. “(On) this campus, it’s in
your face all the time and people still won’t
vote.”

“There’s been a big concern about it,” said
LSA senior Mike Forster, co-chair of Voice Your Vote and member of
the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan, which said it
registered 600 voters before the deadline.

Michael Anderson, an LSA sophomore with the College Democrats,
offered similar remarks. Manning a table a few yards from Voice
Your Vote members, Anderson distributing flyers, buttons and
stickers in support of Democratic presidential candidate John
Kerry.

“This is really just to (target) people who are registered
to vote, but aren’t planning to do it,” Anderson said,
eyeing passers-by and reaching to hand them Kerry bumper stickers.
He added that his organization was trying to “maximize voter
turnout” and doing “anything to increase (their)
visibility.”

“Visibility” would be a soft choice of words to
describe any group on the heart of Central Campus yesterday.

Voice Your Vote members blasted music to attract students to
their table on the center of the Diag. A member of the Stonewall
Democrats — the LGBTQ arm of the College Democrats —
donned a sandwich sign that urged students to vote “no”
on Proposal 2. The proposition would amend the state constitution
to ban same-sex marriage in Michigan and possibly deprive same-sex
couples of the financial and legal benefits that come with civil
unions.

These students’ engagement with politics has put them in
touch with media and politicians across the nation. LATimes.com,
the online version of the Los Angeles Times, ran a story on Voice
Your Vote on Oct. 10. The College Democrats and Republicans have
joined with state-level party officials to spread the word about
their respective candidates, with both groups scouring for votes
door-to-door and making scores of phone calls to prospective
voters. Finally, the Coalition for a Fair Michigan —the
principal organization lobbying against Proposal 2 — has
recruited the Stonewall Democrats to assist in its campaign.

Overall, students’ intensity bolsters the observations of
many pollsters who say that college-age persons are showing a
greater interest in politics than in years past.

According to a Sept. 30 survey by the Washington-based research
group The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press,
“The percentage of young people who say they are registered
to vote … has increased significantly since 2000 —
from 47 (percent) to 58 (percent). The number who are registered is
at the 1992 level (60 percent).”

And activists are still looking to draw more students into the
political process. Voice Your Vote members say they will return to
the Diag every day until the election, in order to ensure that
students who signed up to vote actually head to the polls on
Election Day.

The College Democrats, who said they will also show up every day
until the election, will target homes across the Ann Arbor area in
their door-knocking campaign, and will also seek to garner some
last minute Kerry votes on Election Day by engaging voters as they
head to the polls.

The College Republicans, who registered a few hundred students
on campus compared to the thousand or so signatures collected by
the Democrats, will visit communities in the metro Detroit area,
such as those in Oakland County.

“While we’d love to get (University students) out
and vote and we encourage kids to go, our resources are better used
off campus where there are more Republican voters,” said LSA
sophomore Allison Jacobs, chair of the College Republicans.

Jacobs added that the door-knocking campaign is part of a
“96-hour plan” with the state Republican Party and
other College Republican organizations, which will continue today
and run through Tuesday. The effort also includes phoning residents
and driving voters to the polls.

Jacobs said the College Republicans will be on the Diag today,
tomorrow, Monday and Tuesday.

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