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And Now All They Have to Do Is Vote : Campuses: Students at UCI and Cal State Fullerton register record numbers for the Nov. 8 elections as a national drive kicks off with an eye to '96. Activists say the 18-to-24s can become a very powerful bloc.

October 13, 1994|LESLIE EARNEST | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Jennifer Anastasoff, a lithe young woman on a mission, parked herself at the door to the UC Irvine concert and cornered the music-lovers, one by one.

"Excuse me, are you registered to vote?" she shouted above the music's blare. "People are playing for free in order that you register to vote. It's that important."

And this was not the only good time Anastasoff has had lately.

One night last week, she hung out at Kinko's in Irvine till 3 a.m., then spent the next two hours plastering "Rock the Vote" fliers all over campus.

And in the final hours before the Tuesday registration deadline, she roamed the campus with a friend hoping to snag procrastinators, at 2 a.m. stumbling upon a couple sitting beneath the stars and a sliver of a moon. It was an intimate scene, ripe with promise.

"Hey, are you registered to vote?" Anastasoff called out, shattering the scene. "It was over. The moment was over. Everyone seemed to be registered at 2 in the morning."

Maybe not the coolest week on record, but it seems to have done the job. A small band of die-hards like Anastasoff, 20, have registered more than 600 new voters at UCI during the past week, 12 times the number netted in previous drives.

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Cal State Fullerton student leaders also report increased voter registration this year. They're hoping it hints at a budding trend, one that will deliver more political power into the hands of young people.

The local push coincides with work being done at the national level. Today, Lead or Leave, a nonpartisan advocacy group for young people that Ross Perot helped start in 1992, will launch its Register Once campaign in Washington, D.C., with the goal of making it easier for college students to vote.

With some 325 schools representing 4 million students on board, spokesman Andrew Weinstein called it "the largest student campaign since the Vietnam War."

The plan is to promote legislation that would remove obstacles to student voting, such as burdensome voting procedures and residency requirements. With such roadblocks shoved aside, the group's flier promises, students will be able to decide--not just influence--elections.

Weinstein said California colleges signed on early, including Cal State Fullerton and Chapman University in Orange.

"California's been ahead of the curve on this one," he said. "The students have been very organized there."

UCI leaders say they were so successful this year because they made it fun--added Technicolor to the black-and-white process of registering to vote--by doing such things as staging campus concerts and passing out free candy, audio tapes and nightclub tickets at voter registration booths.

OK, so it's still dull. But it gets students to the voting booth.

"The act itself isn't fun," said Anastasoff, a San Francisco transplant and poly sci major. "The way we sell it is that it takes five minutes out of you're life. We're trying to make it fun, to give a whole context to it."

And, yeah, they were relentless--might as easily have been toting religious tracts as registration forms as they fanned out across campus over the past week.

"When I go to class, I always get the two people next to me," said Valerie Ho, director of external affairs, who ran the campaign and has been spending 10 to 12 hours a day directing a crew of about 40 volunteers and compiling voter registration kits.

As the registration deadline approached, Ho, 20, even began hanging out at the campus pool hall.

"I pretend to be one of them," she said. "I sit down. I'll just be, 'Are you registered to vote?' " eyes widening casually.

Unsuspecting students stalled in ATM lines were pathetically easy prey. "They're in a good mood," Anastasoff said, "cause they're getting money."

Chris Lowe, 24, Cal State Fullerton's student body president, describes a tamer routine at Cal State Fullerton, where students have been distracted by mid-terms. Still, he said, members of young Republican and Democratic groups "heavily solicited" potential voters, and student volunteers distributed get-out-the-vote buttons and T-shirts.

The campus registered considerably more new voters than in previous election years, Lowe said, although he did not have statistics.

"There's an overall sense of the importance to register, get involved and to play an active part in our own government," said Lowe, who was scheduled to leave Wednesday night to attend Lead or Leave's Register Once conference in Washington.

That campaign will push for legislation that would link voter registration to class registration, ensure that college campuses provide voter registration and absentee ballot materials and establish voting booths on all campuses with more than 200 residential students.

While Lead or Leave is also marshaling a nationwide drive to get young adults to the polls in November, its main goal is to dramatically boost the turnout of young voters in the 1996 presidential election. This would not be, they caution, an automatic windfall for conservatives or liberals.

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