IOP Panel Says Youth Vote Is Key in ’04 Race

Pro wrestler with Harvard diploma urges youth to flex their political muscles

NEW YORK—An alum who is now a professional wrestler joined a group of more typical political commentators in arguing that the youth vote could be pivotal in this fall’s election at a Institute of Politics (IOP) Forum at the Harvard Club in New York two weeks ago.

The effect will depend on the youth turnout, the panelists said in a wood-panelled room adorned with a giant elephant head as they addressed 160 Republican National Convention (RNC) pages.

The wrestler, Christopher J. Nowinski ’00, a spokesperson for World Wrestling Entertainment’s Smackdown Your Vote! campaign, said that celebrities, such as actor and now California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, could be effective in getting young people to tune in.

“Arnold might draw a lot of attention from young people interested in what he’ll say,” he said, alluding to Schwarzenegger’s speech at the RNC on Sept. 1.

But former IOP Fellow Lynn Sweet, the head of the Chicago Sun-Times Washington bureau, cautioned that celebrity endorsements weren’t always entirely sincere.

She said that she had looked up Michael Jordan’s voting record after he endorsed former senator and basketball player Bill Bradley for president in 2000.

“I did look up [Jordan’s] record to see if he was registered to vote—he wasn’t,” she said.

IOP officials Jennifer Philips and David King told the pages, who all toted light blue ties or sashes printed with elephants and American flags, that only 9 percent of college students had voted in the 2002 general election.

But the panelists said that colleges could improve those numbers by giving more attention to voter registration on campus and by helping students fill out absentee ballot applications.

Philips, associate director of the IOP, cited Harvard as an example. She said that all first-years have the option of registering to vote on the way to getting their ID photographs taken. “This is the easiest way,” she said. “In four years you get the entire school registered.”

According to a Crimson poll of 365 undergraduates last December, 77 percent of Harvard students are registered to vote.

King said that a federal law mandated that colleges request voter registration forms for all their students 120 days before the deadline to register to vote. However, he said that few universities were aware of the law.

He encouraged the pages to check whether their colleges were in compliance, and added that violation of the law could lead to loss of federal funds.

When Chris White, a page from New Hampshire, asked whether voting should be required, panelist Susan Hirschmann, the former chief of staff to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, was appalled.

“Not a good idea,” she said. “I’m opposed to the government mandating most stuff in life,” she added, drawing the most applause of the afternoon from the all-Republican crowd.

Pages, who are selected from each state by their RNC members, said that they were impressed by the forum and lunch at the club’s Harvard Hall, despite having already been dined at the New York Stock Exchange and having attended a New York Yankees game.