Volunteers try to rally young voters

Published: Saturday, November 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 31, 2008 at 11:42 p.m.

The get-out-the-vote efforts are unavoidable on the University of Florida campus.

The Obama campaign's army of young volunteers has been urging students to vote early and shuttling them to polling places over the past two weeks. Now they're recruiting those early voters to help ensure stragglers cast ballots on Election Day.

The McCain campaign is using creative ways to make up for a gap in numbers and resources. Supporters have been holding impromptu rallies - called flash mobs - to boost enthusiasm and voting numbers among conservative students.

Non-partisan groups have been getting students to sign cards with their contact information. Students will be getting calls, text messages and e-mails urging them to vote, while the information will also be tapped for future campaigns.

The idea is getting students to vote in large enough numbers that they'll be seen as an potent political force, said Victor Lopez, a campus organizer for Florida PIRG's New Voters Project.

"Young people are going to be driving what's happening in this country," he said.

Election officials don't track the number of young voters who cast early ballots. But anecdotal reports suggest early voting has helped boost the percentage of UF students and other young people who have cast ballots in Alachua County.

"It's always up in a presidential election year, but this year they seem to be coming in really strong numbers," said Pam Carpenter, county supervisor of elections.

UF elementary education major Ashley Cannington, 21, said she and four friends waited two hours on Thursday to vote early at the downtown polling site.

"I know it's going to be crazy Election Day and I have classes all day," she said.

On Friday, she stopped by the Obama table on UF's Plaza of the Americas to buy T-shirts and pick up stickers. The booth has been the site where students could sign up for rides to early-voting sites, but was shifting toward rallying voters who were waiting for Election Day.

Eric Conrad, co-coordinator of UF Students for Obama, said about 90 percent of the students in one of his classes reported they've voted early. More than three-quarters of students passing by the table say the same thing, he said, although he conceded some could just be dodging volunteers.

Students who early voted can be recruited to volunteer on Election Day, he said, allowing the campaign to turn its attention elsewhere.

"With everyone that's voted so far, it will be a lot easier to turn folks out," he said.

First-time voter Jessica Etter, 18, expressed frustration over the ubiquitous Obama volunteers on campus in explaining her support for the Republican ticket.

"They'll find you. It's like they have radar," she said.

College Republican President Bryan Griffin said McCain supporters have been forced to use creative ways to be equally visible. In recent days, those students have gathered in flash mobs to wave signs and chant as they march across campus.

Family, youth and community sciences major Jennifer Kacerosky, 21, was among the group Friday. She wore a "Kiss My Lipstick" button featuring a picture of GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin holding a rifle.

"I thought I was alone," she said of the overwhelming percentage of liberals on campus. Participating in flash mobs "makes everyone else aware that there's support for McCain."

Some students don't even know third-party candidate Ralph Nader is on the ballot, said Eric Acuna, 21, a Santa Fe College student and Nader volunteer.

Of those who do, he said, many are Obama supporters who have argued with him that Nader could spoil the Democrat's chance.

"I won't accept the argument that you throw away the vote if you vote for Nader," he said.

Non-partisan efforts comprise the final group getting out the campus vote. Mandy Hancock, Florida campus organizer for the Southern Energy Network, said about 1,300 UF students have signed pledges to vote for clean energy.

The contact information on the cards will be used to urge students to vote and then recruit them to lobby lawmakers on environmental issues.

Florida PIRG is asking students to sign pledges to vote that will be similarly used, as well as providing bags and other goodies to students who text message their friends urging them to vote.

"It works better than even me going up to someone and reminding them to vote," Lopez said.

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