Free pizza and warm sunshine lured about 60 Washington State University Vancouver students to a voter registration rally at the campus amphitheater Thursday, where organizers registered 13 new voters and collected 39 pledge cards in the first hour of an afternoon that also promised live bands and stand-up comedians.
The event was organized by John Anthony Shahor, student body director of legislative affairs. His goal: To fight the voter apathy that’s so prevalent among young people, energize students and drive home the message that they have a stake in elections, whether at the national, state or local level.
A case in point is Proposition 1 on this November’s ballot, a revenue measure that would allow C-Tran to avoid cutting bus service by 33 percent. Among routes on the chopping block if the measure fails is the Salmon Creek line, which serves the university campus. In 2010, ridership on the line was 94,255.
Stephanie Wiese, a junior who transferred from Clark College this year, said she came to learn more about local issues. “I’m not as interested in the presidential election” in 2012, Wiese said. “I‘m more into local elections, because they will have more of an effect on my life.”
Though she admires President Barack Obama for using social media to inspire young people by the millions to vote in his 2008 campaign, Wiese said she doesn’t plan to vote for him in 2012.
She’s excited to see women like Sarah Palin entering the political arena. “I’m not for or against her, but she puts herself out there and gets her message out.”
If she had a chance, she said, she’d vote for Hillary Clinton for president, Wiese said. “I like her moral values.”
Student body president Audrey Miller wore a T-shirt to the rally bearing the logo “Civil Disobedience: An American Tradition Since 1770.”
“I’m definitely pumped up,” she said. “When I ran last year, we were focused on creating a politically involved and politically connected campus. It’s not our responsibility to tell people how to vote, but it is our responsibility to inform them. We want people to be involved and plugged in the whole year round.”
An obvious issue around which students can mobilize is the sharp increase in tuition at state colleges and universities over the past four years, Miller said. It’s important for students to speak out against decreased access to higher education.
She admits the composition of the student body presents special challenges. “The 18-to-24-year old demographic of voters has the lowest turnout,” she said. And at WSUV, where the average age of students is 26, many older students take classes but have their own lives and don’t get involved in student activities.
“We have to be consistently resilient,” she said. “Politics is every day, it’s 24-7. If you live in Washington, D.C., you know that.”
She hopes to bring Democratic U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee and Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, the two leading candidates for governor, to campus for a debate next year.
Why should students care about state government?
“Our campus is here because our Legislature and our community worked to bring it here,” she said. “We want to see it continue to grow.”
Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey spoke briefly at the rally. He said there’s something for everyone on this November’s ballot.
“If you care about a well-funded transit system, if you think people should or should not be able to purchase alcohol at a Costco store, you should participate,” he said. “Every vote counts.”
Several organizations, from Planned Parenthood to We the People, the local Tea Party group, set up tables to gather signatures on petitions and promote their causes.
Jeff Stookey and Pam Allee, members of a group called the Alliance for Democracy, were collecting signatures of support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would repeal a controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling involving campaign finance laws.
The 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission held that corporations have the same free speech rights as individuals and struck down most of the limits that had previously prevented corporations from spending their wealth directly to influence political campaigns.
“We’re hoping to get a grass-roots effort going,” Stookey said. Several students had already signed his petition.
Ty Stober of Equal Rights Washington was gathering signatures on petitions to put a measure on the ballot next year legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington. He said he was getting “a great response.”
“This is a generation that’s open to it by a wide margin and pretty much every demographic,” he said.
Lynn Costello of We the People said her organization was there to urge students to exercise their vote.
“I’m always amazed when people say, ‘I don’t vote,’” she said. “They are content to let others make decisions for them. That’s not living as a citizen. It’s living as a subject.”