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Groups combine for voting drive

In an effort to promote political activism among undergraduates, various student organizations are collaborating on a two-week voter registration drive.

The initiative began last summer when the Office of Student Affairs suggested to Duke Student Government to take an active interest in organizing a drive. Duke is federally mandated to offer voter registration on campus, Assistant Vice President for Campus Life Zoila Airall said. She added that her office is pleased this year's drive includes more campus-wide collaboration than in years past.

Along with DSG, other student organizations have joined together to conduct the registration campaign, including the College Republicans, Duke Democrats, Progressive Alliance, Duke NAACP, Black Student Alliance, Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Council, as well as the nonprofit organization Vote For America. Coalition leaders said they hope the variety of interest groups involved will help students recognize the importance of voting in local elections.

"By combining with other groups, we are promoting the fact that this is a nonpartisan drive," said sophomore Chasity Roberts, BSA chair of public affairs. "By not promoting a particular candidate, we are basically trying to attract every type of student."

The voting drive's leaders hope the initiative will help quell voter apathy among students.

"I hope that given the opportunity, Duke students set a precedent for other people our age by voicing their opinion with a vote," said sophomore Elizabeth Dixon, DSG director of student services.

Lack of political initiative has increased among the college-aged demographic group, according to American Demographics Magazine. In the last presidential election, only 32 percent of all eligible 18-to-24 year-old voters cast ballots.

"It is important that students become more visibly involved in politics because that is the way to get politicians to consider our preferences on policy issues," said senior Tyler Will.

This year's election will take place Nov. 5, and the last day to submit registration to the Board of Elections is Oct. 11. Registration takes less than five minutes, and a student needs his dorm address, mailing address, telephone number and driver's license. After the student completes the form, DSG will submit all forms to the Board of Elections.

A student from out-of-state has the option of voting as a North Carolina resident, or in their home state's election.

"Students choose to vote in the North Carolina election because they are electing officials who will represent them and their interests for their four years at Duke," said DSG President Joshua Jean-Baptiste.

"This helps students get the most out of the government and feel connected to the voting system."

However, many other students, such as freshman Philip Lea, have opted to receive an absentee ballot from their home state.

"I have followed Louisiana politics much longer than those of North Carolina, so I feel I'd be a more informed voter in the Louisiana election," Lea said.

After registering, student voters also have the option of filling out a Vote For America pledge card. DSG will use these pledges to form a database of registered voters. They will contact these voters about various political issues, polling locations and future speakers.

After only one week of campaigning, the leaders of the drive are satisfied with participation. Some 150 have already registered, and officials hope a total of 500 to 600 will register by the end of the campaign.

"I have seen a sense of understanding among students as to why it is important to vote," said sophomore Mary Ellison Baars, College Republicans representative for Vote For America.

"The drive's easy registration allows a student to show dedication to the political system," she added.

The voting drive, which lasts through Thursday, takes place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Bryan Center walkway, and from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the East Campus Marketplace.

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