December 13, 2007
As one of the longest primary seasons in history draws to a close, a major focus of the presidential campaigns’ get-out-the-vote efforts in Iowa has turned to an unlikely demographic: college students. For the past two weeks, there has been a high-profile discussion about where students ought to vote–in their hometowns and home states or in the cities and states in which they live during college. While the issue rarely surfaces as a topic of national debate, the question is anything but new. In fact, as many Iowans tell it, the issue of student voting in Iowa is just about as old as the Twenty-Sixth Amendment.
The recent dust up over student voting started when influential Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen pointed out that Barack Obama’s campaign had been urging out-of-state students to return to their college campuses to participate in the January 3 caucuses, which fall during most college students’ winter vacations. Yepsen accused the Illinois senator of trying to transform Iowa’s primary into an “Illinois caucus.” In a speech at Grinnell College last Tuesday, Obama responded by telling students not to “let somebody tell you that you are not part of this process–because your future is at stake, and America’s future is at stake.” Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton took a different approach: She called the caucuses “a process for Iowans,” and argued that the Iowa primary “needs to be all about Iowa and people who live here, people who pay taxes here.”
Clinton’s comments, paired with a similar remark from Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, drew sharp attacks from online commentators and youth vote advocates. Jane Fleming Kleeb, executive director of the Young Voter PAC, called the comments a “thinly veiled” attack on “the tens of thousands of students studying at any of the dozens of colleges and universities throughout the state.” Kleeb also noted that young people will make up “30 percent of the electorate in just a few years,” and that “ignoring them or saying they should stay home is at a candidate’s–and frankly, our country’s–peril.” Future Majority blogger Michael Connery argued that instead of “erecting more barriers to participation, campaigns and the media should be working to reduce those barriers. Shame on them for doing otherwise.”