Students become focus of elections

Carrie Whitaker and Carrie Whitaker

Every four years, in some way or another, students become the focus in presidential elections.

This year a unique group of students — those studying abroad — are being targeted as November draws near.

Deanna Ng, a graduate student from BGSU currently studying in Spain, is part of the target in the new grass roots organization called Americans Overseas for Kerry.

Before AOK reached Ng she was undecided on who she would vote for and if she was going to vote at all.

AOK was formed by Kerry’s sister Diana, with a goal of reaching Americans, like Ng, who live abroad.

Their Web site, makes it easy for Americans to get absentee ballots without having to go to the closest U.S. Embassy.

According to David Hyman, communications and strategy coordinator for AOK, Spain is one of the main target areas because it has the 10th highest percentage of Americans residing inside its borders.

Bowling Green currently has 31 students at Alcala de Henares, a university near Madrid. This program is one of many offered through the University.

Ng heard about the group when Diana Kerry spoke at Alcala de Henares last week. Many students used the Web site and printed off their absentee ballots after she spoke, Ng said.

“I think the group has most affected students who are already supporters of Kerry by giving them an extra push to send in their absentee ballots,” Ng said. “I think it has changed the minds of some undecided voters like myself.”

The goal for AOK is to get 15,000 Americans who are living in Spain registered to vote.

“This election is going to be close,” Hyman said. “In order to do as much as [Diana] could do to help her brother’s cause, she initiated this organization to reach the 4-7 million Americans living outside the United States.”

The goal of the group however is two-fold — get people registered to vote and try to persuade them to vote for Kerry, Hyman said.

“Once people have requested their absentee ballot, we explain why we support Kerry and why we support his bid for presidency,” Hyman said.

The Web site, however, is nonpartisan and so are the group’s information sessions on requesting an absentee ballot.

Susana Juarez Martinez, coordinator of the Bowling Green group in Spain, said this group did a good job in getting student’s attention.

“This is the first time American students have been reached with regards to United States elections,” Juarez Martinez. “I am not sure students, the majority, would have registered for voting since they have to make the effort of taking the train to go to Madrid and once there, stay in the line outside the American Embassy.”

When students abroad go to the AOK Web site they enter their American address and it directs them to the absentee ballot that is unique to their home state.

“The requirements for Iowa are different from the requirements in Michigan,” Hyman said. “‘[The process] can normally be tricky on other Web sites, but our Web site streamlines the entire process.”

The Democratic and Republican national parties have Web sites where absentee ballots can be printed, but Hyman thinks they are not as easily navigated as AOK’s site.

Another part of AOK’s goal is to help American students feel closer to home, because they do not get to hear the campaigning like other students.

“I am sure in BG that you cannot walk across campus without being asked to register to vote,” Hyman said. “We don’t want students who are studying abroad to be left out of the electoral process.”