Saturday September 29, 2012

The rush to engage college-age voters is coming to Berkshire County in the form of guest lectures, registration forms, and rock ‘n’ roll.

Today, student groups of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams will present a Rock the Vote event on the school’s quad, with live music, art displays and voter registration.

On Tuesday night, "Election Series 2012" talks continue at Williams College with political author and activist Barbara Ehrenreich.

The events come at a time when voters under the age of 30 seem less engaged in the November elections.

According to a Pew Research Center report published Friday, the share of voters younger than 30 who are following campaign news very closely is roughly half what it was at this point during the 2008 election season -- 18 percent down from 35 percent. Just 63 percent of registered voters in this age group say they definitely plan to vote this year compared to the 72 percent four years ago.

"Voting is important. You will be basically deciding who will run your life as long as you live in the country," said Eric Walsh, a senior art major at MCLA from near northern Essex.

A registered voter planning to exercise this right in November, Walsh and his alternative rock band, Break My Fall, will be one of about a dozen acts scheduled to perform at MCLA’s Rock the Vote event on Saturday. He will also be emceeing the show, organized in partnership the MCLA Society of Music and the Student Activities Council, and MassPirg students.

Walsh said he sympathizes with his peers who may be conflicted about the election.

"People our age usually don’t pay attention to politics, and I can see why because it’s a total tug of war of ‘that person said’ and ‘that person said,’ and with the Electoral College, it definitely causes hesitance to people voting," said Walsh.

"I think people should vote because the whole thought process -- that one vote doesn’t matter -- is a thought process between many people, which means a huge chunk of swing votes could possibly be missing. It’s the people’s choice and we should take it into our hands."

Sam Crane, who chairs the political science department at Williams College, said lack of understanding of the registration and election process and deadlines can also factor into how college-aged voter are engaged.

"We think it’s important that everybody understand the process of how to vote and how to participate, and we encourage our students to do that," Crane said.

MassPIRG chapters, includ ing the one which will be at MCLA’s Rock the Vote event, are working with other student public interest research groups across the country through an initiative called the New Voters Project to help register college age voters on campus.

On the Williams website, students can click on a link labeled "Students: Voting is Easy!" Students can register and request absentee ballots through an online service called TurboVote, offered in English and Spanish, which the college is paying for. Upon registration, students will also get text message and email reminders so they won’t miss elections.

Crane posted additional registration information in his Williams blog, including the website Vote411.org, a nonprofit, nonpartisan site that helps individuals connect with their voting district.

The professor suggested students from places like Penn sylvania, which has adopted a new voter identification law, or students planning to vote by absentee ballots begin the registration process as soon as possible to ensure their vote will be counted.

Oct. 17 is the deadline for Massachusetts voters to register for the election, which will be held on Nov. 6.

For students who are either not of age to or for international students who aren’t eligible to vote in the U.S. election, Crane said these students will still have an interesting vantage point "to watch how the election system works, to identify both its strong points and weak points."

To reach Jenn Smith:
jsmith@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink

If you go Š

Today: Rock the Vote, a free, all-ages voter registration event with live music and art will be held from noon to 5 p.m. on the MCLA Quad, near 375 Church St., North Adams.

Performers include: Outer Stylie, T Bone Daddy, MCLA Allegrettos, Break My Fall, MCLA Dance Co., Also The Ethic, A Voice from Below, Subject to Interpretation, Platypus in Dutch, The Childres, Paradox. MassPIRG will also be on hand.

For more information: Find MCLA Rock the Vote 2012 on Facebook or http://on.fb.me/ShbSqc