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Local college students try to get the youth to the polls

By Pete Bridge

Point Park News Service

The Point Park College Republicans want to bring a speaker from a conservative, gay organization called Go Proud to their campus to rally support for Mitt Romney while a different Point Park group backing Barack Obama has canvassed downtown.

A Duquesne University fraternity held a student debate for politically interested students to prepare for the election.

After the 2008 Presidential election resulted in a record breaking turnout from young voters, those student groups are among a wide assortment of young political activists trying to encourage students to vote, but most of them are not too optimistic.

“I would love for the turnout to be higher or the same but I just don’t think we have the enthusiasm that we did in 2008 unfortunately. It breaks my heart to say that,” said Alyssa Knierim, the head of Point Park students for Barack Obama.

The College Republicans group at Duquesne University started just two weeks ago due to increased interest. The group is not under the national registry but plans on volunteering at the Green Tree campaign center to serve as telephone callers for the polls.

According to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, CIRCLE, 21 percent of all eligible voters are between 18 and 29-years-old.  The upcoming election comes four years after 51 percent of the youth went to the polls in 2008. However, local college students who are involved with various Democratic and Republican groups are wary about this year because of a distinct lack of enthusiasm among the young electorate in the region. The majority of the student activists agree that this election will definitely see a decrease from the 51 percent.

Rittenhouse, a junior theater acting major, re-founded the College Republicans group at Point Park after it was taken off of the national registry last year. In efforts to support Mitt Romney and the Republican ticket, Rittenhouse is trying to get a speaker from Go Proud to talk to students on the campus. Go Proud is the only national gay organization to endorse Romney because of his belief in limited government.

“They’re gay or lesbian Republicans or conservatives who are speaking out against the Democratic model for gay rights. They think the Democratic Party is putting them backwards years and years and the best vessel to getting gay marriage passed is through the Republican Party,” Rittenhouse said.

The Point Park College Republicans group has had 25 active members in the downtown area through absentee ballots. Rittenhouse said he believes that his group is holding voters accountable by sending in their ballots legally and on time.

“There was a guy working for Barack Obama for America on the sidewalk downtown on Forbes and he was actually handing out voter registration forms that were already partially filled out which is a form of voter fraud. So we contacted the Allegheny Board of Elections to let them know,” Rittenhouse added.

Point Park’s Students for Barack Obama group that works for Organizing for America for the Obama campaign. Junior political science major Alyssa Knierim is the head of the club and setup debate watch parties for students to get educated on the facts.

“We’ve canvassed downtown with the Downtown Obama team. That was interesting trying to get into apartment buildings. Some teams got kicked out of a lot of buildings because of security,” Knierim said.

Along with the canvassing, the Obama group, which has 15 members, held registration drives in Point Park dorms and called them dorm storms.

“They are really successful because we get to talk to a lot of students. A lot of the students didn’t know how to get registered so we would stand there and watch them fill out the form,” Knierim said before the group’s Oct. 22 debate watch party as she wore her Obama 2012 sticker and t-shirt.

Stuart Siberski is the founder of the Duquesne University College Republicans. Siberski started the club one month before the election after he volunteered at the Green Tree campaign center as he made phone calls to potential voters.  Siberski said that polling is a great way for young voters to get involved.

“There’s a program that has thousands of people and you call them and ask ‘if the election was today, would you vote for Obama or Romney?’” Siberski said.

Franklin Stockdale is a senior at Duquesne University and serves as the head of Pi Sigma Alpha which is a political science honors society.  Stockdale served as one of the moderators for the group’s school-wide student debate on Oct. 23 in Fisher Hall on campus.

The debate has been a Pi Sigma Alpha tradition for 25 years and consisted of three teams: the Young Democrats, a Republican group that is not affiliated with the College Republicans, and Young Americans for Liberty which is a Libertarian group.

The first question of the evening was about the federal budget and if the students would increase revenues or decrease spending. The other questions covered various topics, with one of the final questions being about how they would respond if Israel were to carry out a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. All of the groups answered the question on Israel in the same way as they broadened their responses to ideas on the Middle East as a whole.

Stockdale said the event was well-attended and succeeded in that the group wanted to increase student awareness of the election.

“I don’t think that there was a winner. They were very clear in their differences and I think they all did well,” Stockdale said.

Overall, the students agree that the younger generations are not as excited about the upcoming election as they were in 2008.  Part of this reason may be that recent college graduates have not had much luck in finding jobs in the past four years. According to CIRCLE, 8.1 percent of recent college graduates are without a job.

“Obama did a fantastic job in 2008 to get younger people to vote. This time around, we’re facing one of the lowest rate for recent college graduates having a job,” Rittenhouse said.

The unemployment rate of the youth, which has decreased each year under Obama’s presidency, could lead to apathy towards the presidential election while neither candidate has targeted the youth vote like President Obama did in 2008. Regardless, students realize that the youth vote could be the difference in the election.

“The young vote is very important to us as a club. Among Democrats, it may be the most important thing in this election,” Knierim said.

College students can start their own clubs just like Siberski did to get more involved. The clubs will all be watching the election night unfold on the night of Nov. 6th after they cast their ballots.

“On the night of the election, we’re going to have an election watch so the whole night we can sit back and watch the votes come in through a live feed,” Siberski said.


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