Friday, October 22, 2004
College voters come out for Virginia 21
Lobbying group hopes young voters will swing this and other elections.
More than 5,500 Virginia Tech and Radford University students requested absentee ballots and 1,645 registered to vote this fall with the help of Virginia 21, the state's first "political action-tank" for college students.
Statewide, more than 21 percent of all in-state undergraduates attending public universities used the voter assistance services offered by Virginia 21. With student-run chapters at each of Virginia's four-year public colleges, as well as a full-time staff in Richmond, Virginia 21 has become a vocal advocacy group for the college-age crowd in the halls of state government.
Virginia 21's Web site served as a one-stop shop for students - or anyone else - hoping to vote in the Nov. 2 election.
The site walks students through every step to register to vote and to request an absentee ballot. By clicking through a series of questions, students could print out a copy of their absentee ballot request as well as an envelope addressed to the appropriate voter registrar's office.
The online service also sent students e-mail reminders of the deadlines to file their paperwork in order to be eligible to vote on Election Day.
More than 19,000 students statewide requested absentee ballot forms through Virginia 21's site, accounting for 13 percent of all absentee ballots requests in the state. Another 4,746 students used the site's register-to-vote tools.
At Virginia Tech, 4,289 students requested absentee ballots through Virginia 21, while 1,252 Radford students requested absentee ballots.
Brandon Bull, a Tech senior and the Western Virginia regional coordinator for Virginia 21, said the popularity of the on-line tools reflect students' comfort level with technology.
"To me, it reinforces the notion that our generation - the 18- to 24-year-olds - can be the swing voting block in this and other elections when given the right tools and encouraged to participate," Bull said Thursday. Bull said he is excited about the prospect of encouraging students to vote in next year's election for state offices as well.
Virginia 21 was launched last year by a small group of ambitious college students and has the financial backing of corporate executives involved in higher education issues in the state. Ferguson and the group's student volunteers lobbied tirelessly during the 2004 General Assembly session on increased funding for Virginia's public colleges and other higher education issues.
Proof of the group's growing name recognition came last month when it raised more than $200,000 during a luncheon and seminar attended by more than 100 students and many of Virginia's most powerful lawmakers.