Champaign County aims for more voters at primaries

By Andy Kwalwaser

When polls open for the Feb. 5 primary election, Champaign County Clerk Mark Sheldon hopes about one-third of voters cast a ballot – an improvement from the 2002 primary, when only one in four Champaign County voters took part in the election.

Educators, civil servants and political groups have expressed concern about disinterest in the upcoming primary, particularly among students.

Champaign County has 110,000 registered voters, but Sheldon estimates that only 40,000 to 45,000 will vote in the primary.

“It’s usually really low within the college communities,” Sheldon said.

Student political groups are hoping registration drives can change this trend.

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“We had a party last weekend where we handed out voter registration sheets,” said Jackie Lundeen, sophomore in Communications and member of College Republicans. She added that a door-to-door campaign was not as successful.

Earlier this month, College Democrats held a weeklong registration drive in the University Residence Halls. The group’s secretary, Abbey Erwin, said campaigning to students is difficult if they have an aversion to politics.

“Some people say they’re already registered and snicker and walk away,” said Erwin, sophomore in LAS. “Some people don’t care and never will.”

The Department of Political Science has received only three applications for credit-earning internships on local primary campaigns. Internship Coordinator Marie Henehan cautioned that participation in primaries does not completely measure student political interest.

“People love to talk about apathy and students,” Henehan said. “I don’t know. I think that more students are involved now than at any other time.”

Sheldon said some voters reject the obligation to declare a party affiliation in primary elections. Voters who do not participate in primaries often cast a ballot in the general election.

“Some consider themselves independent and let the party system choose its candidates,” Sheldon said.

It could be a small number of voters who select the candidates on a ballot.

“There’s never as much interest in the primary as there is in the general (election),” said Michael Krassa, professor of political science.

The statewide registration deadline is Jan. 8, but students can request an absentee ballot until a week before the primary.

While this leaves plenty of time to increase voter turnout at the University, student groups are trying to make a difference now.

“I’ve noticed for some people, it’s like we’re selling something,” Erwin said. “It’s hard to drum up the interest, but for those who have it, we try to be there.”