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Oberlin Votes

Voter registration movements were well under way at Oberlin even before the first students began arriving in August. “All students received in their enrollment packet a brief memo informing them that they could register or request absentee ballots when they came to enroll,” says Ray English, director of libraries.

At a meeting of the Oberlin College Democrats (OC Dems) in September, students were spurred to action after repeated reminders that “no Republican has ever won a presidential election without win-ning Ohio.” Their efforts were among several campus and community movements—many non-partisan—to register voters. One notable event included a Writers Get Out the Vote project, in which well-known authors held readings on campus and passed around a sign-up sheet promising students a phone call from a writer on election day.

Oberlin’s student chapter of the Ohio Public Interest Research Group (Ohio PIRG) was part of a multi-state effort called the New Voters Project, which aimed to register 500,000 voters between the ages of 18 and 24. “The point is to change the way politicians view youth and their participation and politics and make them pay attention to us,” says Dena Iverson ’06.

Oberlin Votes, a non-partisan coalition of townspeople and community groups, was launched by Oberlin’s League of Women Voters after census data and voting records from the 2000 election revealed that 3,300 citizens in Oberlin had either failed to register or failed to vote in 2000. To increase the numbers this year, Oberlin Votes went door-to-door and held voter registration block parties. “An 80-year-old woman told me she could not remember the last time she voted,” says Oberlin resident Ken Stanley, a member of the core team.

Oberlin Votes also worked on a web-based, student-to-student registration pro- gram, through which students could contact their friends and encourage them to vote. The program received help from at least one unexpected place: Oberlin alumna Annie Frazer ’00, frustrated because her Decatur, Georgia, residence was not considered an important contender in the presidential election, chose instead to help the voting efforts in Oberlin. As a long-distance volunteer coordinator, she set registration goals and trained volunteers. Frazer planned to be in Oberlin on election day, voting herself by absentee ballot.

“I’ve never felt such a strong need to get involved in politics,” she says. “No matter how the election turns out, I know that I’ve participated in the democratic process to the greatest extent possible.”

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