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Inside Politics

UNL students snubbing the vote

By Amber Brozek
Special to CNN

Student correspondent Amber Brozek leans against the original columns, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln landmark.

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• See more work by Amber Brozek and her colleagues online at the Daily Nebraskan external link
Campus Vibe
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America Votes 2004
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Editor's note: Campus Vibe is a feature that provides student perspectives on the 2004 election from selected colleges across the United States. This week's contributor is Amber Brozek, a reporter at the Daily Nebraskan, the student newspaper at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

LINCOLN, Nebraska (CNN) -- Ask Becky Startzer why she's not a registered voter, and her answer is pretty simple.

"I just never did register," the University of Nebraska-Lincoln sophomore said.

The Illinois native said she was too involved in her studies to worry about what's going on in the 2004 presidential election.

She also said she would not apply for an absentee ballot or change her address to vote in Nebraska.

Startzer isn't the only student snubbing the vote. Experts say voter turnout among 18- to 24-year-olds has been decreasing in recent years a concern when youth voters could swing the vote in this fall's presidential election.

So states like Nebraska have been rallying to turn the statistic around.

The federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 was passed to accelerate election reform. States received money to examine voter turnout, instigate voter education and start poll worker training.

In August 2003, Nebraska legislation created the Vote Nebraska Initiative to tackle the issue of voter turnout and look at ways to increase the youth vote.

Since then, the committee has been researching the issue.

But Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale, the committee's chairman, said the state does not keep exact figures on voter turnout at this time.

According to a study by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at the University of Maryland, Nebraska's voter turnout decreased 16 percent between 1972 and 2000. Only 37 percent of eligible voters between the ages of 18 to 24 voted in the 2000 election.

The national average of 18- to 24-year-old voters was 42 percent, which was an overall decrease of 13 percent in youth voters between 1972 and 2000, according to the center.

Gale said it also doesn't help that Nebraska's primary -- set for May 11 -- is so late.

Nebraska's primary once was considered an early primary, but it is now considered a late primary because other states have added early primaries.

Gale pointed out that presidential candidates used to come to UNL.

"Robert Kennedy brought his campaign to UNL in 1968 and he really energized the students to get involved... but that doesn't happen here anymore," he said. "Nebraska just doesn't have access to the candidates like we used to."

Reasons to participate

Despite this fact, UNL sophomore Luke Muggy said he is energized for the presidential election.

"The president has a ton of power," he said. "And individual votes do count. So, I guess it's my civic duty to vote."

Muggy said he believed students in general don't think their votes count.

"So those students don't have a right to complain unless they've tried, and they can do that by voting," he said.

UNL senior Laura Knaus pointed out that Nebraska does not have a lot of electoral votes; a fact that isn't stopping her from voting.

"It's tough to tell why UNL students don't seem to be interested," Knaus said. "Students need to be aware of what's going on even if Nebraska doesn't get as much attention.

For now, UNL student groups are sticking to the basics holding voter registration drives and educating students on the presidential candidates.

Kyle Arganbright, UNL student body president, said the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska (ASUN) hopes the nonprofit organization Rock the Vote will stop at UNL.

Until then, ASUN and other campus organizations are teaming up to sponsor voter registration drives.

Absentee ballots and change of address forms are available to students, he said. Also, the organization is looking into establishing a voter precinct on the UNL campus to increase voter turnout.

If the plan does not work, Arganbright said he hoped busing to the nearest precinct would be available for students.

"I think the youth voice still needs to be heard," Arganbright said. "The only way that's going to happen is if students participate by voting."

Nebraska Sen. DiAnna Schimek and a Vote Nebraska Initiative member said she has seen a lot of enthusiasm by UNL students.

But, she said, many students do not vote or become interested in elections because youth do not have the same priorities and concerns that older citizens are worried about, such as property tax issues.

Schimek said she's not giving up.

"Young people are more in tune to the use of computers," Schimek said. "Eventually voting on computers will come, but it's just not secure enough yet. We'll get there."

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