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High young voter turnout possible Election Day
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College Republicans talk to voters outside Metrodome. (MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
This could be a good year for getting young voters in Minnesota to turn out to the polls. Partisan and non-partisan "Get out the Vote" groups have set up shop in Minnesota with peer group campaigning targeted at 18- to 24-year-olds. Their efforts appear to be paying off.

St. Paul, Minn. — As fans stream into the Metrodome in Minneapolis for a recent Gophers football game, about a dozen college Republicans are there to greet them.

Some are giving away Bush/Cheney bumper stickers.

Bethel College Senior Jake Grassel is handing out football schedules. Flip one over and the image of President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush smile back, reminding you to vote Republican on Nov. 2.

"It's a great way to get a lot of information out, a quick message out to a lot of people without burdening them and bothering them," Grassel said.

Grassel is chair of the Minnesota College Republicans. He says the group has recently swelled to 75 campuses with over 10,000 members.

"Basically they're signing up to become part of the ground troops for the Republican party," Grassel said. "We do everything from phone calling to door knocking to lit drops and sign waiving to passing out literature at a Gopher game."

In Minnesota about 500,000 18- to 24-year-olds will be eligible to vote in this election, nine percent of the total number of currently registered voters.

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Image Jake Grassel is Minnesota Chair of the College Republicans

Partisan and non-partisan groups are out in force seeking to reverse a steadily declining turnout among young people. Participation by 18- to 24-year-olds in Minnesota has gone down 14 percentage points since 1972.

There are signs the trend could change.

Just over half of the total number of 18- to 24-year-olds in the state are already registered, that's more than the total number of registered 18- to 24-year-olds on election day in 2000.

Twenty-five-year-old Emma Greenman directs the state chapter of the Young Voter Project, which describes itself as progressive and non-partisan.

Greenman says her group registered 5,500 young voters statewide.

"One of the things that's nice about this election is we don't have to tell anybody why it's important. Everybody feels like there's a decision to be made," Greenman said. "The issues really are concerning. Because if it's the matter of who's elected president and whether or not I'm going to go to college or not, whether I'm going to go to war or not, whether I'm going to have a job or not."

Greenman says volunteers are reaching young voters on campuses, street corners, movie theater lines, coffee shops, and nightclubs.

Recent polls show 18- to 24-year-olds appear to be as divided as the rest of the electorate.

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Image Emma Greenman directs the Minnesota chapter of the Young Voter Project

Mark Hugo Lopez is research director for the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement - or CIRCLE - based at the University of Maryland.

He says a September CIRCLE/MTV poll shows nearly a dead heat in the race for president, with Kerry slightly leading.

But, a full 20 percent of young registered voters polled said they could easily change their minds between now and the election.

Lopez says though Bush and Kerry haven't been explicitly courting young voters much - either through ads or through direct meetings - interest among young voters is at its highest since 1992.

"You don't see a lot of direct campaign contact to young people like you might expect given the interest in the election," Lopez said. "However, the candidates have been addressing issues that young people are interested in, like the war in Iraq, like the draft issue, like the economy and jobs."

Voter turnout in Minnesota tends to be higher than the national average for all age groups, including 18 to 24-year-olds. In 2000, 54 percent of them voted, compared to 42 percent nationally.

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