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Participation lags among young voters

Teresa Nowakowski | Thursday, September 2, 2004

Touted as a national epidemic, young voter apathy may be slowly eroding at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s. As most undergraduates find themselves voting in their first presidential election this November, the level of interest varies, but is rarely at zero. Alicia Heimann, a Saint Mary’s junior and declared Republican, isn’t directly involved in campaigning for the candidate of her preference, but emphasized the impact young voters can make. “[Many] don’t realize how many of us are in our age group, and that their vote can help to make the decision,” Heimann said. Even with voting power, some students are wary of publicizing their politics. “It seems whenever I try to bring up something political in class, people squirm,” Saint Mary’s senior Mercera Payne said.This squirming could reflect the apathy that has wrapped itself around collegiate youth.Notre Dame junior Peter Quaranto is the student coordinator for the Rock the Vote campaign at Notre Dame believes there is a “tremendous amount of apathy” among college-aged voters.  The Rock the Vote campaign focuses on all collegiate youth and tries to create a climate in which students can talk about issues. “One important thing is to get people to look at the whole spectrum of issues,” Quaranto said.Peter Kralovec, a member of the planning committee for the Rock the Vote campaign, works specifically with mobilizing voters. Kralovec said he too believes it is important to focus on all aspects of politics, not only a few.   “Catholic voters tend to emphasize the notion of a seamless fabric of life that only deals with life, choice and abortion,” Kralovec said. “Catholics have to start voting on international peace and economic justice.”But many disagree. There are some students who care so passionately about only one issue, it becomes their entire basis for voting.Junior Angie Schuemann falls into this category. For her, one issue overshadows the rest. “The biggest thing for me is abortion,” Schuemann said. “That automatically makes me Republican.” s the election draws closer, many people are realizing this election affects not only America, but the world as a whole. Saint Mary’s senior Kelly Hradsky believes this election could have implications worldwide.”For now, other countries believe that the government is dictating foreign policy that they don’t necessarily agree with, and people are waiting to see if [Americans] re-elect Bush in order to gauge if the voters in the United States really believe and support the policies Bush is representing,” Hradsky said. “Our votes count. Just look at the last election.” But students cannot affect the vote unless an effort is made – which can be increasingly difficult when they attend schools away from home. “Students will have to go the extra trouble of getting an absentee ballot, which I think many will simply not do,” Notre Dame senior Bryce Cooper said. Quaranto implored all students to take the time to get informed and make the effort to vote. “If history tells us one thing, it is that the students’ votes won’t count because students don’t vote,” Quaranto said. “When we stop participating, we begin to go down an ugly cycle that tears away at our democracy.”