College and university students in Utah can expect someone other than salesmen and missionaries to come knocking on their doors this fall as political activism is taking campuses by storm.

The goal is to get thousands more students registered to vote before the general election this fall. The method will be "face-to-face contact," said Andrew Jenson, government relations director for the Associated Students of the University of Utah.

"The 2008 elections will be one of the most closely watched events in American history. As students, we have a unique opportunity and responsibility this year to get involved and engaged in American politics," he said.

Representatives from nearly all of Utah's colleges and universities gathered last week to discuss ways to better inform students of their civic duties as U.S. citizens. The Student Empowerment Training Project, a group that travels around the country teaching political activism strategies, presented the two-day conference at the U., promoting political and civic engagement, focusing on organizing effective student voter registration campaigns.

"This will be a good opportunity to help students understand the importance of civic engagement and will enhance their campus experience, especially in a big election year," said Dave Buhler, interim commissioner of Higher Education in Utah.

Luke Garrott, a U. professor and Salt Lake City councilman, told the group that voter registration is often tied to civic education, adding that the people most likely to vote are those who are already involved somehow in the community. He encouraged students to present opportunities for people to get involved.

"I'm seeing a lot of excitement about the presidential election this year, which has given a lot of people that extra push to get involved," Jenson said. "We've got two candidates who have stepped outside mainstream politics, which has excited a lot of people."

Dozens of students participate and even lead national and local campaigns, not only for the experience, but for the chance to be involved and foster excitement of the political process within themselves.

"Students are seeing not only what it means to be engaged in politics, but also in their communities," Jenson said. Although it is an ambitious goal, he hopes to register 6,000 new voters at the U. this fall and extend the efforts into future years, keeping the pattern moving forward.

Last year, several schools in Utah competed to garner the highest number of newly registered voters, but "inevitably, there are people you just don't reach," Jenson said, adding that married students, and those who work full time and are on campus at odd hours, don't get the same attention traditional students do.

"We're being taught how to develop different methods to reach everybody," Jenson said.

Incoming freshmen will be the biggest target, as for many of them, the 2008 election will be their first opportunity to cast a vote.

For two weeks prior to this year's election, the U. will host an on-campus, early voting booth, available to anyone registered in Salt Lake County.

"Anything to make it easier for everyone to vote," Jenson said. "We just want to get the vote out."


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