Alaska Youth Vote registration high, participation low

Voter registration for the upcoming November elections ended Sunday, Oct. 3, 2010. The good news is that over 50,000 18-24 year olds, aka the “youth vote,” registered to vote in Alaska, making up nearly 75 percent of that population.

The bad news? That is 6,000 less voters than were registered in 2008. Moreover, less than half of that number actually voted in the 2008 Presidential election.

Given the extremely small margin of victory in many recent races, the youth vote has an opportunity this election to make their voices heard. Yet, busy schedules and a general ambivalence about politics could keep that from happening.

Although Junior Sarah Schmidt believes it is important for young people to vote, she might not make it to the voting booth this November.

“I don’t pay attention to midterm elections,” Schmidt said. “I pay attention to presidential elections more. I think we could make a difference, but I don’t think most students will (vote).”

For Schmidt, school and a full-time job keep her from getting enough information to feel confident going into the voting booth.

“I don’t really read about the candidates, so I would feel stupid voting when I don’t really know anything about them,” she said.

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The lack of education on candidates and party platforms seems to be reflected in data reported by the State of Alaska Division of Elections. They break down the 50,000 youth registered to vote this November to 10,000 registered as Republicans and 6,000 registered as Democrats.

What is more telling are the 30,000 plus 18-24 year olds who registered as non-partisan or undeclared. Did they register as non-partisan and undeclared because they are ambivalent, disenfranchised or because they truly consider themselves non-partisan?

Senior Jess Adams is registered to vote this November and has voted in every election since she turned eighteen. She says most of her friends do not vote because they are not educated about the issues or the candidates and, like Schmidt, they do not feel confident voting.

“They don’t want to vote on something that they don’t know about,” Adams said. “Since they don’t really know about it they don’t feel like it matters to them. Sometimes that’s a problem, because they might miss something that is really important to their future and they blew it off because they didn’t know about the details.”

If they can overcome what traditionally keeps them from voting, the Alaska youth vote has an opportunity to make a big difference this November due to the small margins of victory in recent races.

The 2008 Senate election declared Sen. Mark Begich winner by only 4,000 votes, and Congressman Don Young won with a 16,000-vote margin of victory in the same election. Other state races in 2008 had victories in the range of 1,000 to 400 votes.

This year, Joe Miller won the Republican primary by only 2,006 votes. Now, looking forward to the general election, a recent CNN/Time poll showed Miller ahead of Murkowski by only two percent, both with a double digit lead on McAdams.

The message is that, in Alaska, every vote counts.

Students can fit voting into their busy schedules by stopping by the Student Union on Nov. 1 and 2. All 40 district ballots will be available, meaning you can vote on campus no matter where you are registered. Come with an I.D., leave with the satisfaction of making your voice heard.