Young people turned out in force for the 2012 election, making up 19 percent of voters and helping re-elect President Barack Obama.
But getting college-aged voters as excited for this year's election has proved more challenging for University of Colorado student leaders and political engagement groups in Boulder.
Without all the visits from President Obama to campus, flashy campaign advertisements and mobs of people wandering around CU encouraging students to vote, it feels like some college students don't even know an election is coming up, said Ryan Case, president of the CU College Democrats.
"It's much more difficult to get students engaged in an off-year," Case said.
His group has been handing our literature on different ballot issues and making sure people know when and where they can vote or drop off their completed mail-in ballots, Case said.
But it hasn't been easy getting the word out. The group has around 10 active members, Case said, which doesn't come close to the number of activists, campaign staff and other groups that were on campus before last year's election.
Case said his group has focused on two specific issues to engage young voters: Amendment 66, the school finance measure that includes a $950 million tax increase, and Boulder ballot Question 310, a citizen initiative charter amendment with links to Xcel Energy that would require voter approval of the debt limit of a future municipal energy utility.
Talking with the general student population about these issues might not be enough to motivate them to vote, Case said.
"The people who are interested are people who are focused on politics," Case said. "People care about K-12 education funding or the municipalization of the power supply in Boulder, but they're not going to go out of their way to go help us spread the word.
"Hopefully they'll vote, but honestly, most students don't even know that there is an election next week."
Richa Poudyal, legislative affairs director for the CU Student Government, said local races can seem lackluster compared to national elections, so many students just aren't as interested in voting this year -- or they don't know enough about the issues or candidates to feel like they're casting an informed ballot.
Some students don't know what Boulder's City Council does, Poudyal said, so how would they know which council candidates to vote for?
"People really have a hard time grasping the idea that local elections affect them and to what capacity they affect them," Poudyal said.
Ballot issues that deal with things such as fracking, education funding and marijuana taxes can have a direct impact on students, said CU College Republicans president Olivia Leyshock, who added that voting can become "addicting" once students learn how much influence they have.
"You start realizing, 'Hey I have some pull here,'" Leyshock said.
To encourage CU students to vote this year, New Era Colorado has been trying to make voting seem as easy as possible.
Members of the group have been helping students register to vote and talking with them about where to drop off their mail-in ballot and what types of identification they'll need.
Steve Fenberg, New Era Colorado's directors, founded the nonpartisan political engagement group in 2006 after graduating from CU.
Last year, New Era Colorado helped 40,000 people across Colorado register to vote. Of the people the organization helped register, 86 percent went on to vote in the 2012 election, Fenberg said.
The organization, which has had a tent outside the University Memorial Center for much of this fall, also has been reminding students to update their current addresses online so they receive their mail-in ballots.
"We do know that if someone gets a mail ballot, they're more likely to vote," Fenberg said.
Get out the vote
All of their tactics will help encourage students to vote this year, Fenberg said, but it's unrealistic to expect young people to vote like they did in 2012 because there aren't the same resources this year.
"A bunch of young people didn't just turn out because of Obama, but because he had a campaign that was invested in getting them to turn out," he said.
Fenberg's group also has been sharing information with CU students about some of the issues on this year's Boulder County ballot so they feel comfortable voting on local issues.
If voting feels less like a test they haven't studied for, he said, young people will be more willing to come back to the polls each year.
Research also shows that people who vote three elections in a row will become voters for life, Fenberg said. For many CU students who voted for the first time in 2012, this year's election is a key step in helping them form a habit around voting, Fenberg said.
"The more information we can provide, the more they'll feel engaged and they're more likely to actually vote as long as it doesn't seem like it's a mystery once they actually open the ballot," he said. "If you talk to young people and engage them, they actually do turn out."
Contact Staff Writer Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/sarahkuta. ___