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Inside Politics

Push for voter turnout drives Howard students

By Ruth L. Tisdale
Special to CNN

Editor's Note: Campus Vibe is a weekly feature that provides student perspectives on the 2004 election from selected colleges across the United States. This week's contributor is Ruth L. Tisdale, campus editor of The Hilltop, Howard University's student newspaper. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or Howard University.

As a part of Russell Simmons' "Rap the Vote" campaign, Howard University students participate in a voter registration drive.

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• See more work by Ruth L. Tisdale and her colleagues online at  The Hilltopexternal link
Howard University

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Election Day 2004 at Howard University will be all about raising voter turnout, said leaders of several campus political groups.

Campaigns to increase voter registration and awareness are a priority for Howard chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, College Democrats, United Leaders and Campus Green, a group affiliated with the Green Party.

Xayna Sanders, 20, a junior and president of the NAACP's Howard chapter, said she wants the group's get-out-the-vote message to reach beyond campus.

"We want to reach the community as well," said Sanders, a political science major. "People have been used to seeing old church people trying to get them to vote, but when they see energetic, young, black college students, they are more inclined to stop and listen to what we have to say."

Advocating change

Ololade Fawole, 21, vice president of Howard's College Democrats and a junior majoring in political science, said teaching people about different methods of voting, such as absentee ballots, is key to this election.

"Many people who live in D.C. are not registered as D.C. residents, and the College Democrats are trying to educate people on voting absentee," said Fawole, a North Carolina native. "Many people who participated in the last election felt that they were disenfranchised. Now these people feel that if they did vote that it wouldn't matter.

"We are trying to convince them that their vote does matter and making a change means changing the leaders."

Fawole said College Democrats also are distributing literature to encourage civic involvement and ways that Washington residents -- along with Howard students -- can contribute to the election process.

With 15 members, Howard's College Republicans are focusing on the church to attract voters.

"One big issue is the faith-based initiative," said College Republicans President Adam Hunter, 20, referring to President Bush's plan to allow religious groups to compete for government contracts and grants.

"The church is the center of the black community," said Hunter, a junior majoring in political science. "The church provides day care, education and housing to African-Americans. Republicans realize that the government cannot do it all, so they want to give more control back to the churches."

Jason Ravin, 22, a Howard student and Green Party national director for African-American affairs, said that if black voters knew "the truth," the face of American politics would shift and voter turnout for minorities would balloon.

"During the period of 1966 to '68, America experienced its greatest turnout because people knew the truth about Vietnam and wanted change," said Ravin, who also is studying political science. "If we let African-Americans know the truth, they will be interested in making that change."

Move to raise African-American participation

Nate Smith, 20, a sophomore and political science major from Greenville, South Carolina, has organized a Howard chapter of United Leaders -- a program that tries to get voters ages 18 to 30 more involved in the political scene.

Howard students are seeking to raise voter awareness and increase registration.

"The 2000 elections had a negative effect on the African-American community," Smith said. "After the elections, African-Americans felt that their vote didn't matter. For the 2004 elections, we have to double the effort to alert people to the fact that their vote does make a difference."

Jamal Anderson, 20, who put school on hold for a year to work as an aide to former presidential candidate and ex-Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, said something must be done to increase African-American participation in the political process.

"As a whole, there was not a vast number of minorities on any of the campaigns," said Anderson, a sophomore and political science major.

Nationwide, the number of minorities involved in politics in any capacity is low, Anderson said. To help change this low involvement, he said he's participating in a leadership development program for African-American middle-school students.

"The goal is to get reach these kids early and to give them exposure," Anderson said. "When they do go to college, they will be more interested in the process."

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