Historically, turnout rates among student voters have been too low to have much impact on national elections. However, student groups at MU have made an effort in the past few weeks to encourage students to make their voices heard at the polls Nov. 7.
The Mizzou College Republicans participated in an effort to register both new voters and those who needed absentee ballots, said President Tyson Mutrux. Likewise, College Democrats President Nate Kennedy said several hundred student volunteers are currently working to get out the Democratic vote in Boone County. The group registered more than 500 students to vote, he said, and has also sponsored rallies and campus appearances by Democratic candidates, including U.S. Senate candidate Claire McCaskill.
Democratic and Republican students have an interest in a number of issues on this year’s ballot, including minimum wage, the war in Iraq, the economy and stem cell research. Kennedy said the election is extremely important for college-aged voters.
“Basically, these issues will shape our lives and our children’s lives,” he said. “We, the 18- to 25-year-olds, want to ensure that the decisions made by our leaders today will benefit us the most in the decades to come.”
The proposal to raise the minimum wage in Missouri is important for students to support as they attempt to pay for their schooling, Kennedy said. He also cited the war in Iraq as a major student issue. “The consequences from this war are our generation’s cross to bear,” he said.
McCaskill has said that if she were in office back in 2003, she would not have voted to go to war. She says the U.S. should begin pulling troops out of Iraq. Her opponent, Republican Sen. Jim Talent, has called McCaskill’s foreign policy positions weak. He said that removing Saddam Hussein from Iraq was a necessary action and that a timeline for U.S. withdrawal would be a mistake.
Mutrux said victories in Iraq and in the war on terror are important for the safety of all Americans, including students. He also mentioned the strength of the economy as an important issue for student voters.
“The economy is strong, and this matters to students when they graduate,” he said. “The last thing a student wants is to start their career in a bad economy. Fortunately, we have a president who understands the benefits of tax cuts.” Both Talent and Republican Rep. Kenny Hulshof, who is also up for re-election next week, have been supportive of President Bush’s economic policies, including his tax cuts. Mutrux said supporting these candidates would help to further the president’s economic plan.
Mutrux and Kennedy agreed that Amendment 2, the Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, is important because it could have a huge impact on students’ futures. If passed, the amendment would allow all stem cell research permitted under federal law to be conducted in Missouri.
“Opponents of stem cell research say that any potential cures from embryonic stem cell research are at least 15 years away from being discovered,” Kennedy said. “Yes, 15 years is a long time and too long for some people, but not the 18- to 25-year-olds who will only be about 35 or 40 at the time of discovery.”
Although Mizzou Students for Life is not politically oriented, it has actively campaigned in opposition to Amendment 2, said Meagan Rippee, the group’s president. Rippee said her group’s mission is “to promote a holistic appreciation for all stages of life” and members believe embryonic stem cell research involves the destruction of human life.
Mizzou Students for Life sponsored a speech on the medical and legal aspects of Amendment 2, and the group set up tables in Brady Commons to distribute literature on Amendment 2 and voter-registration information as often as students were available to staff them. “The student vote always has a huge potential,” she said, “but we don’t always put out the numbers we should.”
Like Rippee, Laura Merritt, founder of I Am, a campus pro-stem cell research group, hopes her efforts to mobilize students around the issue will help get students to the polls. “General consensus on campus from all sides is that we want our voices heard,” she said.