GW sponsors voting project

As politicians and pundits gear up for the November general election, a GW-sponsored voting initiative is aiming to register 260,000 young voters in six states.

The New Voters Project, sponsored by the GW Graduate School of Political Management and the State Public Interest Research Group, launched a campaign late last semester to register young voters in Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Wisconsin.

“We have the resources, the right people and the research to challenge the cycle of neglect that exists between young people and politicians,” said Wendy Wendlandt, political director for the State Public Interest Research Group.

The project, officially launched Dec. 4, is being funded by a $4 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, an organization that funds environment, education and public policy initiatives. The New Voters Project is bipartisan and is chaired by former Republican President Gerald Ford and former Vice President Walter Mondale, a Democrat.

Organizers focused on the six states, which have a combined total of 2 million eligible voters between 18 and 24 years old, because they have significant concentrations of young people. The states are also expected to host hotly contested races in the November election, said Carol Darr, director of GW’s Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet.

“Pew didn’t want to spend its money on states where it wasn’t going to make any difference,” she said.

Since its launch date, the group has been working to figure out where young people are concentrated. They are also registering voters at concerts, schools and apartment complexes.

The initiative will team up with other youth voter registration initiatives such as Rock the Vote and Russell Simmons’ Hip-Hop Summit Action Network to reach the most potential voters.

“If you ask them, they will vote,” said Ivan Frishberg, spokesperson for the New Voters Project. “And we are about to directly ask 1 million young people.”

Darr said she is unsure how many people have been registered and that the project is still doing “prep work.”

She said young voters proved to be an important force in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, which made the organizers of the New Voters Project more confident about what they are doing.

“Any time young voters get out voting, that’s wonderful, because you get in the habit of voting,” Darr said. “Voting has declined among all voters for a long time. And in the two democratic primaries that we’ve just had, New Hampshire and Iowa … They’ve just had record turnouts”

She added that six GW graduate students are involved in political and legal oversight of the project.”

“Grad students are just key to the project,” she said.

College students will be crucial “swing” voters in the election, according to a poll conducted by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. The survey, which questioned 1,202 students between 18 and 24 years old, found that 85 percent of respondents said they would vote in the election.

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