Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, October 19, 2006

"Web sites give candidates tools to reach young voters"

This story appeared in today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Every year it’s a struggle to get students to vote, said Andrew Goodin, president of Washington State University Young Democrats.

Young Democrats and College Republicans have spent the weeks leading up to the Nov. 7 general election registering students to vote and distributing information on candidates and ballot issues, as they do most years.

This year, however, those groups and some candidates are reaching those voters through a new tool — networking sites like facebook and mySpace.

Students are already on facebook, Goodin said, so it’s a good place to reach out to students with information on candidates and ballot issues.

Both Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell and her Republican opponent Mike McGavick have pages on facebook. McGavick also has a mySpace page.

Voter turnout in the college age group may traditionally be low because candidates don’t communicate with those voters in the forums they’re used to, said Elliott Bundy, spokesman for McGavick’s campaign. That’s the idea behind using facebook and mySpace.

McGavick’s campaign has tried to do a number of nontraditional things through its Web site, Bundy said. The site includes features like Webcasts and podcasts. Using the popular networking sites is an extension of that.

Dan Ryder, vice chairman for the eastern district of Washington State College Republicans Federation, describes facebook and mySpace as great marketing devices. Even large companies are realizing the power those sites have to reach the elusive 18-25 age bracket.

Students used facebook and mySpace during the last election, but the networking sites have really caught on since then, Ryder said. It’s hard to say how much of a difference that will make in voter turnout.

Nathan Horter is one of three candidates in their 20s running in Whitman County. The 24-year-old is not using facebook or mySpace to promote his campaign for county auditor. Because his campaign is smaller, the additional publicity he could get that way is limited, he said, adding face-to-face contact is more effective for a local race.

Still, he thinks having three young candidates running locally will boost the awareness of 18- to 25-year-olds.

Caitlin Ross, 22, who’s running for 9th district state representative and Nathan Weller, 24, running for county commissioner, agree.

“When I was a student, it would have meant a little bit more if someone was running who was my age,” Weller said.

Many of the students who go to WSU aren’t registered to vote in Whitman County, Ross said. She still hopes seeing young candidates might encourage students to return the ballots their parents send from their home counties.

Cantwell’s campaign reaches out to young voters by getting them involved in the campaign, said Amanda Mahnkey, Cantwell’s spokeswoman.

“We already have young people heavily organized in pretty much everything we do,” she said. They’re at the rallies, making phone calls and distributing literature.

“There’s no magic bullet for getting young people to vote,” Horter said.

For any age, voters have to be convinced that the ballot issues or the candidates will impact them, Horter said.

“I don’t think a lot of students think these issues effect them,” said Kiley Smith, president of WSU College Republicans.

If students are more aware of the ways they are affected by the people going into office, they’ll be more inclined to vote, she said.
“When I was a student, it would have meant a little bit more if someone was running who was my age.” Is that why Nathan Weller didn't vote for the last six years?

As I said on The PES a few weeks back, college is a time for many students to learn about the issues and try out different political ideologies. I encourage that. But since WSU students are from somewhere else and will be moving away in a few years, it shouldn't be expected that they follow and get actively involved with Pullman and Whitman County politics. That's unfair. I was very active politically when I was in college at the state and national level, but I couldn't have named the mayor of the town.

Since many students lean Democratic, our local Democratic party wants to try and exploit students for their own purposes.

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