Road trip driven by desire to register swing voters

Driving Votes comes to Columbia in two RVs and registers 221 people.
Tuesday, August 24, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:37 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bobby Schrautemeier has never voted before, but the 19-year-old MU communications student has strong views about the coming election.

“I am not really a huge fan of Kerry, but I’ll vote for anyone but Bush,” Schrautemeier said. “I think that Kerry has more experience with the military than Bush does, and I like that he’s criticizing what our country has done thus far and is looking for a way to bring our troops home as soon as possible.”

Schrautemeier registered to vote Monday through Driving Votes, whose caravan of two RVs and several cars rolled into town as part of the group’s coast-to-coast road trip through swing states.

Driving Votes has identified 20 swing states it thinks could be won by either candidate. The caravan, which started Aug. 20 in Seattle and will end Sept. 11 in Miami, will visit six swing states: Washington, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida.

“A lot of people have fought and died in order for us to be able to exercise our right to vote, and far too many people take that for granted,” said Matt Lerner, a 29-year-old manager with Microsoft and founder of Driving Votes. “But I am excited because while on the road over the last few days I have seen a lot of excitement building around November’s elections.”

Lerner started to provide information to people interested in planning road trips to register voters in swing states. To date, Lerner said, more than 1,000 people have used the Web site to plan trips. Driving Votes has started 32 state chapters with more than 500 volunteers.

In each city it visits, Driving Votes teams up with a local organization. In Columbia, it worked with the local chapter of the Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition, or Pro Vote. Both groups generally support Democratic candidates, but Pro Vote organizer Rachel Wright hopes everyone will vote, regardless of party affiliation.

“Our democracy doesn’t work if people don’t vote,” said Wright, 22, a May graduate from MU. “We want everyone to vote. Not just people with money or people with homes. Homeless people also have a right to vote. In particular, we are trying to target people from underrepresented communities, such as low-income and minority individuals, as well as young people.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 32 percent of people ages 18 to 24 voted in the 2000 elections, compared to 55 percent of the general population. Driving Votes and its most recognized volunteer are trying to change that.

“It’s important for young people to vote because they’re the future of our country,” said Yes Duffy, a cast member on the eighth season of MTV’s “Road Rules.”

Driving Votes’ Illinois team captain, Kendra Salois, 23, who made the trip from Chicago to Columbia, said the war in Iraq and the economy will be the election issues that most directly affect young people.

Francesca Dimaggio, a Democrat and 19-year-old MU sophomore, said education is the most important issue for her in the governor’s race, in which she’s pulling for State Auditor Claire McCaskill.

Driving Votes registered 221 people in Columbia before leaving for St. Louis.

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