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As the November presidential election approaches, several student groups are working to get out the vote and ensure Brunonians are informed, though the youth vote is not anticipated to play as large a role as it did in 2008.

To facilitate student awareness, the Undergraduate Council of Students included voter registration forms in freshman orientation packets. Response to the council's initiative has been decent, said UCS President Anthony White '13, adding that the campus center has received around 50 completed forms from first-years so far.

Elizabeth Davis '16, originally from New York, registered to vote in Rhode Island through her freshman packet because she did not want to go through the process of sending in an absentee ballot. "It was very convenient," she said.

"A presidential election will have a bigger draw" than there is in midterm election years, White said.

Students for Obama and the Brown Democrats have been working together to register students. The groups held a voter registration drive last week, registering 285 students from 13 different states, 178 of whom registered to vote in Rhode Island. The number is an uptick from last year, when only 250 total students registered.  

"We had such a strong response from the community," said Sofia Fernandez Gold '14, president of the Brown Democrats. "We had people lining up, so we're going to see if we can do additional tabling."

Members of the political groups go over the forms with the students and look at the submitted forms to make sure they are filled out correctly. They also mail in voter registration forms and absentee ballot applications for students.

"It's our job to make (voter registration) as easy as possible, whether (students are) Democrats or Republicans and whether they want to vote in Rhode Island or at home," Gold said. Gold is registered in Rhode Island despite being from Maryland, but many students end up sending absentee ballots to their home states because they think their vote will matter more and they are more familiar with politics there. 

Miriam Rollock '15 is registered in her home state of Indiana. "I care about a number of races there and a number of them are close, so I feel that if I vote there then my vote will mean more," she said.

Benjamin Resnik '15, a Virginia native, expressed a similar sentiment. "My vote is going to have more impact in Virginia than it's going to in Rhode Island," he said.

Members of the Brown Democrats and Students for Obama are also looking beyond the Ocean State. Members are participating in volunteer efforts to register voters who live in New Hampshire, the closest battleground state. Students for Obama in particular is working on an initiative to get absentee ballots to 18,000 New Hampshire voters who commute to Massachusetts and probably won't have time to register, said Taylor Daily '13, president of Students for Obama.

The Brown Republicans are still preparing their initiative for the semester. "We were considering doing voter registration similar to what the Brown Democrats were doing," said Thomas March '14, the group's treasurer. "We were thinking instead of registration, we'd just go out actively and hand out forms to not just students, but members of the Providence communities."

He added that the group has struggled to find membership in the past and often focuses on discussions between like-minded people. He said the group hopes to show some movies and documentaries to raise awareness around campus.

In the city precinct that includes the University, 70 percent of voters supported Barack Obama in 2008. And 86.1 percent of students said they supported Obama for president, compared to 6.3 percent for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. in a Herald poll conducted in 2008. 

But many students said they do not have problems with the campus' clear liberal leaning. Uche Elueze GS, an Obama supporter, said his views "fit right in." Justin Braga '16, a member of the Brown Republicans, said he finds having minority political views a welcome challenge.

"I actually embrace it as a challenge to present my views to people and explore and defend my own views," he said, adding that he likes to offer people the other side of the coin and help them see politics from a different perspective.

A new group recently appeared on campus that fosters political discourse between diverse groups of people. Resnik and Rollock founded the Brown Political Forum to allow students to debate and examine why people might support different views. "We don't have any political motives; we just want to get people talking," Resnik said.

Youth turnout is typically "pitifully low" and usually falls under 50 percent in national elections, said Michael Tesler, assistant professor of political science. But it was an important factor that helped Obama win the election in 2008.

"A lot of Brown students I talked to were very gung-ho about Obama, and then there was a disenchantment with his style of government in the state of the country," Tesler said. "His support with the youth hasn't changed, but the enthusiasm has."

He added that Obama has tried to regain the youth vote by talking a lot about student loans and student loan relief - issues he said appeal to young people. 

"I don't think Obama's policies were what youth got behind, but his style and what he stood for," he said. "It's hard to recreate that magic."


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