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Young voters are wildcard in 2012 election, particularly in Florida


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Voters between the ages of 18 to 24 have been voting more in recent presidential elections, with an approximate 10 percent increase between 1996 and 2008.

The statistic would be impressive if this same age group did not still possess the lowest voter turnout rate.

Students at the Romney table hands out information and shirts. Students use tables outside the Reitz Student Union to spread political messages leading up to Election Day.

Less than 50 percent of young men and women, between 18 and 24, vote during presidential elections, and even less during midterms. Yet the demographic is a target of the Obama and Romney campaigns. The 2000 election – decided at Florida’s polls and in a U.S. Supreme Court decision – hasn’t been forgotten.

The 2000 election’s 537-vote margin is the equivalent of one or two large classes at a public university here. The low turnout rate and the fact that Florida is a swing state have made Florida college students a sought-after wild card during this election.

Young voters have the potential to decide elections, but only about half vote. UF professor and elections expert Stephen Craig believes many of these young adults haven’t formed the voting habit: “They have many other things going on. Their lives are more important to them than politics.”

The ones who do vote make a difference. “Young people, especially those in college, are an important part of the Democratic base right now,” Craig said.

Billy Farrell, president of UF College Democrats, blames the low commitment to vote on ignorance. Farrell said, “Among young people, there is a cognizant belief that if people don’t feel informed on the issues they feel, they shouldn’t go out there and vote.”

Politics and elections dramatically impact young voters. In current elections and their future, Craig says they may be failing to understand how today’s issues will impact their lives later on, or don’t feel part of a community yet.

Student-run organizations have been trying to get students registered to vote in this election, but the Florida legislature passed restrictions in May 2011 on such organizations. The elections bill required organizations to turn in the forms of newly registered voters within 48 hours of completion, or pay a $1,000 fine.

An Obama supporter counts student pledges to vote for the president during Tuesday's election.

The law was blocked in U.S. District Court in August, but Farrell said the restrictions discouraged the registration process during the months it was in place.

Dan Bergman, vice president of Students for Romney at UF, thinks the economy is the key issue for college students. Bergman says, “College students have lost confidence that when they leave their school that they will be able to get out and get a good job.” Less than half of the unemployed voted in the 2008 election, according to the U.S. Census.

Then, there are the college students who do not plan to cast their votes this election year. Some are from solid Republican or Democrat states, like Sarah Howard, a UF student from Alabama. She said the majority of her home state is Republican.

As an undecided voter, Howard said, “I don’t really trust Obama. And I guess I don’t really trust Romney either. So both of them, with the combination of where I am from, I just don’t see any reason to vote if I don’t particularly care for either one.”

Joanne Joseph contributed reporting.

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