While least likely to vote, youth could sway a close election

By By Katherine Grandstrand, American News, Aberdeen, S.D.

Next month could be the first time 19-year-old Fay Justice, a Northern State University sophomore, votes in a general election.

But less than a week before Monday’s deadline, she wasn’t registered.

“One, I don’t really know how, and it’s really hard to find where to go, and I don’t really have the time,” Justice said Tuesday. “It’s not like there’s any really big things lately.”

She’s from Sioux Falls, so it’s hard to keep up with everything that’s going on back home, she said while studying in the lower level of the student center.

A couple of floors up, 22-year-old Blake Perryman was studying for a test.

The Northern senior has been registered since high school, right after he turned 18.

“I just feel like it’s good to get your voice out there,” he said. “If you don’t like something, you can at least try to do something to change it.”

In fact, he’s already voted early absentee in the Nov. 6 midterm election. He’s from Dakota Dunes and voted in Union County.

Because they are young, Perryman and Justice are the target of many campaigns asking them to register to vote and to show up at the polls.

But it makes sense that young people — especially those in college and even into their 30s — don’t vote, said Jon Schaff, professor of political science at Northern.

“One of the things that drives voting is political knowledge. The more knowledgable someone is about politics, the more likely they are to vote,” he said. “Young people, for all sorts of reasons, are among the most politically ignorant subgroup of the population, partially because they are young.”

But just because 18- to 30-year-olds are less likely to own a home, get married, have babies or have a solid career doesn’t mean they shouldn’t vote, Schaff said.

“It’s better for everybody to vote. It’d be best if everybody voted, but there are all sorts of things about young people — almost every single demographic characteristic that makes someone unlikely to vote is what young people are,” he said.

The League of Women Voters is on the Northern campus every Constitution Day — Sept. 17 — to get students to register to vote, said Emily Guhin, a member of the local chapter.

“We do feel it’s worthwhile, and we make contact with voters that way and get young people registered,” Guhin said. “If we can get young people interested in what’s happening in their communities and in their state and nation, then that will establish a good habit to be in, so they will continue to do that as they grow older.”

That’s true of kids who learned to vote before they legally could, said Maxine Fischer, Brown County auditor. There used to be a Kids Voting program in every local elementary school. Of course the results didn’t determine actual winners, but the process in which students cast ballots at schools created a habit.

“Those kids vote. They’re in their 40s now, and they vote,” Fischer said. “They had that early — not only education, but they were taught the enthusiasm and the responsibility of voting.”

Without incumbents in two key statewide races — governor and U.S. House — there’s a bit more uncertainty than in previous years, Schaff said.

“The last governor’s race we had, the only drama in that race was whether the TV stations would call the election at 8:01 or 8:02,” Schaff said. “It was so obvious that Gov. (Dennis) Daugaard was going to win.”

Republicans in both races have a little more name recognition than their Democratic competitors, he said.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Kristi Noem has won statewide office several times, while Sen. Billie Sutton, D-Burke, has not, Schaff said. Kurt Evans is running for governor as a Libertarian.

Serving as Daugaard’s chief of staff and on the Public Utilities Commission has given Dusty Johnson a name recognition advantage over Tim Bjorkman, a former judge from Canistota, in the race for Noem’s seat in the U.S. House, Schaff said.

Johnson is the Republican, Bjorkman the Democrat. George D. Hendrickson is running as a Libertarian and Ron Wieczorek an independent.

“They’ve run a remarkably kind of quiet, Main Street, going-to-the-coffee shop-type of a race,” Schaff said of the major party candidates. “It’s an odd race in that it doesn’t seem to be as contested as you’d expect, maybe because both candidates seem to be more interested in running a positive, above-board campaign, and that’s so unusual in American politics today.”

People 18 to 34 make up about a quarter of all voters in South Dakota, according to information from the secretary of state’s office. Voters 35 to 64 make up about half of all voters, with those 65 and older comprising the remaining quarter.

“The youth vote is a marginal vote,” Schaff said. “In order for it to matter, you have to have elections close enough that a slight change in the youth vote could tip it one way or the other.”

This article provided by NewsEdge.