2008: The Year of the Young Voter (Revisited)

November 11, 2008 |  Tagged | Comments Off on 2008: The Year of the Young Voter (Revisited)

Young voters were an important factor in the 2008 election outcome.  Official results are forthcoming, but Rock the Vote reports that an estimated 54.5 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds turned out last Tuesday.  This was an increase of nearly six percent from 2004 and almost 15 percent from 2000.  A record 24 million young people cast votes, comprising 18 percent of the overall electorate.  Consistent with polling figures, 66 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds nationwide voted for president-elect Barack Obama.  Young voters’ strong preference for Obama had a significant impact on close races in several battleground states, including Virginia.

Here in Williamsburg, students contributed heavily to increased voter turnout.  In the Stryker Precinct – where the majority of W&M students vote – turnout increased more than 1,600 votes, from 2,144 in 2004 to 3,803 in 2008.  Overall voter turnout in Stryker was just over 80* percent.

Why the significant increase in Williamsburg voter turnout?  Following an extensive three-year voters’ rights campaign, William & Mary students were permitted to register at their campus addresses for the first time beginning last fall.  In 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed a lawsuit on behalf of three W&M students who had been denied the right to register to vote in Williamsburg because the local registrar considered them “temporary” residents.  The registrar eventually allowed the students to register, and the case was dismissed.  Students living in campus dormitories still faced the challenge of establishing physical addresses.  In response, William & Mary student Matt Beato created a web program that enabled students to register by converting campus addresses into physical addresses.

The W&M Student Assembly encouraged young people to take advantage of the new opportunity, organizing registration drives, concerts, and panel discussions about the importance of voting.  In the end, more than 2100* students registered to vote in Williamsburg, including 121* law students.  According to the Virginia Board of Elections, students now comprise approximately 25 percent of Williamsburg’s registered voters.

These extraordinary efforts by William & Mary students and the increased civic engagement of young voters nationwide may finally put to rest the assumption that young people are apathetic about voting.  Future candidates may make appeals directly to students and develop strategies for attracting young voters.  Articles outlining how the Republican Party can win back the youth vote have already surfaced.  Congratulations, young voters, your voices have finally been heard.

*Special thanks to Valerie Hopkins, William & Mary Student Assembly President, for unreleased voter statistics and information about W&M’s registration efforts.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user DriftingPhotographer.

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