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YOUNGER VOTERS CAME OUT AT HIGH RATE, BUT PERCENTAGE OF TOTAL DIDN'T CHANGE

Spurred by celebrities to "Rock the Vote," "Smackdown the Vote" and "Choose or Lose," young people voted last week at a higher rate than in any presidential election since the 1970s.

But people ages 18 to 29 still made up just 17 percent of voters, the same percentage as in 2000, because voter participation increased across all age groups, according to nationwide exit polls.

And the candidate they supported by a wide margin in New York and across the country, Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry, lost to President Bush.

Still, local college students who worked hard to get their peers excited about the election saw the voting booths as half-full.

"Anytime there's an increase within the amount of voters, that's great. That's a significant increase in comparison to 2000," said Justin Martin, president of the University at Buffalo College Democrats.

Advocacy groups spent millions of dollars this year on a campaign to reach young voters.

They estimate that 20.9 million people younger than 30 voted last Tuesday, an increase of 4.6 million over 2000, according to national exit polls and an analysis of votes by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Leaning and Engagement at the University of Maryland.

Voter turnout for that age group rose from 42.3 percent in 2000 to 51.6 percent, according to the Maryland center. Young voters went for Kerry over Bush by 54 to 45 percent, according to exit polls.

However, voters under 30 made up 17 percent of this year's electorate, a percentage unchanged from the 2000 election, the exit polls found. People ages 18 to 29 make up 22 percent of the voting age population, according to the 2000 Census.

"I think youth turnout did increase in dramatic numbers, but turnout overall increased dramatically across the country," said David Rankin, an assistant professor of political science at Fredonia State College.

Student organizers at area campuses were pleased with last Tuesday's turnout.

At Geneseo State College, 1,300 students were registered to vote in the Town of Geneseo, representing about one-third of all registered voters there, said Joshua Hyman, a senior who registered voters there. About 1,000 did vote, he said.

In the districts that cover students who live on UB's North Campus in Amherst, students voted in about the same numbers as they did in 2000, according to the Erie County Board of Elections.

In 2000, 649 people voted in the UB districts, while 653 voted Tuesday, not counting absentee or affidavit ballots.

Voter turnout didn't change even though the pool of registered voters soared from 844 four years ago to 2,301 now -- a result of campus voter drives.

Tom McArthur, president of the Hilbert College student government, saw more students following election news and talking about the issues.

"Unfortunately, many of them didn't turn out to vote," said McArthur, a junior from the Town of Chautauqua, who voted by absentee ballot.

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com

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