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Chancellor's Column - November 2004  

Oklahoma College Students Vote and Everyone Wins

With all of the precincts reporting from the most recent election, we are ready to declare a winner – all of us.

I think we can agree that our future depends, in large part, on the leadership and involvement of our young people. This involvement often begins with voting, and I am pleased to tell you that the most recent election saw a 9.3 percentage point increase in the turnout among young voters nationwide compared to 2000. We also saw a very successful campus registration effort in Oklahoma that resulted in almost 4,000 new voters.

According to information provided by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), 51.6 percent of eligible voters under the age of 30 voted this year, compared with the previous peak of 47.9 percent in 1992. "Battleground” states saw an even higher youth turnout in 2004 with 64 percent showing" up at the polls.

Many factors contributed to the increase in youth participation, and certainly, voter turnout increased in almost all segments of the population this year. Still, we can be very proud that our young people are showing a level of interest in government and politics that hasn’t been seen in decades.

For the past several years, student participation in their communities has been a major priority for Oklahoma Campus Compact. OkCC was established by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education in 2000 and provides leadership, networking and technical assistance to Oklahoma college campuses and communities in the areas of service learning, civic engagement and community service. Thirty-four public and seven private colleges are members. This year, Campus Compact partnered with the New Voters Project to mobilize college presidents and campuses to encourage student voter participation.

OkCC’s Vocal Oklahomans in Civic Engagement (VOICE) initiative was designed to unleash the voices and power of college students through dialogue, identifying and addressing issues and creating solutions for the challenges facing our democracy. VOICE supports voter registration, mobilization and education projects, including the national Raise Your Voice campaign, which is designed to increase the engagement of students in civic-related activities on college campuses.

And, as I mentioned previously, students participating in VOICE’s annual Voter Registration Contest in September registered almost 4,000 new voters on 23 campuses in two days.

It is clear from these results that, if you invest time and effort in them, young people can and will get involved. Oklahoma colleges are continually working to advance civic learning and democratic participation on their campuses. We have seen the results and should expect continued success.

We can be proud of the civic interest shown recently by our young people on campus and elsewhere. We must continue to encourage their participation. Our future depends on it.