For youth, voting is the thing to do

Dizikes is a Times staff writer.

The lines of pajama-clad undergrads waiting to cast ballots -- many for the first time in their lives -- began forming before dawn Tuesday at George Mason University.

“It’s kind of like Christmas Day; everyone’s abuzz with it,” said 18-year-old Lindsey Denny, who had stayed up all night to finish a project on Czech and Slovak immigration routes over the last 200 years.

“At some point last night I just put a Post-it note over my clock because it didn’t matter anymore. I was going to vote no matter what time I went to bed -- even if I didn’t go to bed.”


That type of resolve -- the same that kept hundreds of her classmates from hitting the snooze button Tuesday morning, and led some to skip class to endure hours of waiting in line at a nearby high school -- is part of the reason much has been made of the youth vote this election.

That, and some undeniable numbers: Rock the Vote, a nonpartisan political advocacy group that targets younger voters, reported 2.5 million new registrations from its efforts this election season, more than doubling its 2004 registrations. And turnout by voters younger than 30 in the 2008 primaries and caucuses nearly doubled that of eight years ago, according to the University of Maryland’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, which studies youth voting patterns.

Younger voters, according to a recent Gallup Poll, favor Democrat Barack Obama over Republican John McCain by about 2 to 1. (And since initial party affiliation tends to stick, the new registrations suggest a lasting boost to Democratic voter rolls.)

Nowhere has this been more obvious than on college campuses like George Mason, where 18-year-old Jennifer Klipper and other registered Republicans were shuttled to the polls Tuesday in a Students for Obama van. “To be a liberal college student is the cool thing to be right now,” she said.

In the student union, across from a boisterous crowd wearing festive garlands and Obama stickers, a lone student furtively approached the College Republicans table to snag a McCain-Palin sticker.

“Be proud,” Elise Marsh, the head of the College Republicans, advised him.

“And get beaten up, right,” he joked, eyeing the commotion across the atrium.

Still, pollsters and analysts play down claims of a spike in actual youth turnout.

“It looks like we will see something similar in this election to what we saw in 2004,” said Michael McDonald, a professor in George Mason’s Department of Public and International Affairs.

And even with intense get-out-the-vote efforts -- which some GMU students called borderline harassment -- there were still those who chose to stay in.

“I just didn’t feel like I should vote because I didn’t know enough,” said 19-year-old Chelsea Leitz, lying in her bunk bed.

“And I guess I’m too lazy to find out.”

Then there was the e-mail sent at 1:16 a.m. Tuesday, purportedly from Provost Peter N. Stearns, informing students, faculty and staff that election day had been postponed till Wednesday.

Stearns wrote in an e-mail seven hours later: “A message was hacked into the system fraudulently stating that election day has been moved. . . . Please be reminded that election day is today, November 4th.”

But for those, like Denny, who went to the polls for the first time, all the hassle of voting Tuesday -- recognizing the hoax and waiting patiently in those long lines -- was worth it: “It was exciting,” she said after casting her ballot.

“I guess I just feel grown up.”