By Taylor Pettit
The youth vote has been said to be a key to the presidential campaign, but younger voters also are taking an interest in local elections.
Madison County has seen voter registration rise rise by more than 1,000 in the past year, and young voters are among that number.
I'm excited,” said Kyle Phillips, a Berea college student who will be voting in his first general election.
“I think (my generation) gets more excited about the presidential race than the local races, but those are the ones that have the true day-to-day impact.”
Phillips, a Berea College Republican, has raised money for candidates such as Andy Barr, who is running for Congress in the Sixth District.
“You really get to see how politics work for you,” Phillips said of his experience.
Although more people have registered, the number of those who are between the ages of 18 and 24 has yet to be determined, said Madison County Clerk Kenny Barger.
The number of young voters who visited the polls locally for 2012 primary is estimated to be more than 3 percent greater than in the 2011 election.
Joe Gershtenson, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University, said he hopes younger people are going to vote in the upcoming election.
Gershtenson led a voter registration workshop for new and soon-to-be voters in October, preparing younger voters on how the election process works.
“A part of these workshops and drives is encouraging these folks to be active,” Gershtenson said. “There is simply a lack of experience and lack of awareness with new voters.”
Barger said new voters should be aware of information such as when to vote, and college students living away from home, should know where they are registered to vote.
Meta Mendel-Reyes, associate professor at Berea College, recently led a group of her students in a voter-registration drive project to raise awareness.
After registering 263 new voters as part of the project, Mendel-Reyes said her goal had been accomplished.
“We wanted to register a high number of voters, but I also wanted them to see the value of voting,” she said. “People have struggled to gain the right to vote, and this shows younger people they need to get out and vote.”
Mendel-Reyes' students also have shown interest in local issues.
The proposed “Fairness Ordinance” has been a big issue in Berea, she said. “But, there is interest. They are reaching out to the candidates.”
The proposed ordinance would ban discrimination against gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered people in housing, employment and public accommodations.
Although campus groups and projects may push registration, students statistically do not visit the polls at the same level as older populations.
“I think younger people don't always want to take the time to vote, and that is where the fall-off is,” said Ben Pasly, a member of the EKU Democrats.
Pasly's group has helped in numerous voter registration drives, and although he thinks they are effective, he's disappointed by the number of people who simply don't want to vote.
“I think there are a lot of misconceptions,” he said. “You wouldn't believe how many people think registering is the reason they get called for jury duty.”
With campaigns such as Rock the Vote, young voters hear presidential candidates focus on jobs and other issues of particular importance to them. But, that is not always translated to local and state elections, Gershtenson said.
“There is a chicken and egg problem here,” the professor said. “If young voters aren't going to the polls, candidates don't want to place their limited resources and time on that group. It's unfortunate, but it's true.”