Campuses Ramp Up Student Voting Efforts

South Carolina, Wisconsin among those trying to boost student voter registration.

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At the University of South Carolina's student organization fair this week, Joe Wright, student body president, encouraged his peers to register to vote while they figured out which service, political, or religious groups to join in the spring semester.

"There is a lot of noise on campus, but if you combine your efforts, you usually have a better outcome," Wright explained.

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This is part of the student government's larger effort to register 1,500 students to vote in this election year, though some may not be eligible in time to vote in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary Saturday.

The 2010 Census Survey, the most recent data for demographic breakdown by state, indicates that 16.9 percent of South Carolina's population is age 18-29. The influence of young voters in the upcoming elections cannot be understated. They heavily contributed to Ron Paul's third-and second-place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, respectively, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (or CIRCLE) at Tufts University. Forty-eight percent of this age group voted for Ron Paul in Iowa, and 46 percent did in New Hampshire.

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Some students face hurdles, however, at the polls. In 2011, Texas and Wisconsin passed legislation requiring voters to show specific forms of photo identification and excluded student IDs.

After public controversy, Wisconsin amended the bill to permit student IDs that met certain specifications, leaving those issued by the University of Wisconsin and other schools invalid.

On Monday, the Madison Student Vote Coalition in conjunction with the University of Wisconsin-Madison will roll out a campuswide program to issue new student ID cards that they then can use to register to vote. These new cards would be especially beneficial to out-of-state students without passports and no other alternative and acceptable identification.

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"With all that has been going on in Wisconsin over the past year, elections are at the front of students' minds," said Sam Polstein, a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and co-founder of the Madison Student Vote Coalition.

The Wisconsin presidential primary is not until April 3, but the state faces additional political heat with the brewing recall election of Gov. Scott Walker.

Heather Smith, president of Rock-the-Vote, a nonpartisan political group that engages under-30 voters, provides support to the Millennial Generation throughout the country to spark civic involvement. She observed that with 10 months before the presidential election, many students are more focused on finding summer internships and job opportunities post-graduation.

"Republicans, Obama, independents are campaigning on the economy. The question is, what does the economy mean for young people? Jobs," she added.

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that national unemployment among jobs seekers age 20-24 runs at a seasonally adjusted 14.4 percent.

Wright cited jobs as the primary concern among students on his campus, seconded by the state of the American economy and better equality for both the gay and transgendered and minority communities.

"We want to be able to sustain ourselves over the next few decades and ensure that there are jobs for our children and their children," he said.