It's not as exciting as 2008, but this year's presidential election is swelling the voter registration rolls in Jackson County — and bringing out cynicism about voting in others.
Registration here went past the 117,000 mark Tuesday on Oregon Voter Registration Day and, said County Clerk Chris Walker, may slide past the 119,664 mark set in the November 2008 presidential election.
Students stopping by a voter registration table in Southern Oregon University's Stevenson Union on Tuesday all said they planned to vote, most of them mentioning "defunding of education" as a big reason, but many mentioned they had friends who weren't interested.
"I'll register, but I'm real busy with school and athletics," said SOU wrestler Taylor Johnson. "I have a pile of friends who aren't going to vote and don't really care. It's kind of the scene with this generation."
Senior Mallory Crocker said she'd vote "because the system isn't going the right way, but my vote probably won't make a difference. I have quite a bit of friends who say their vote makes no difference."
"I'm registered and I'll vote, if I get around to it," said freshman Marshall Miller as she studied in the autumn sun on the quad. "I'm angry about the Electoral College, though. (The Electoral College gives all of a state's votes to the candidate supported by the majority.) Honestly, I have to ask if my vote makes a difference. But it's worth a try and you hope for the best."
Connor Wilkes, an Ashland High School graduate who went on to Portland Community College, said it's hard to trust politicians, as they haven't followed through on their promises — and he feels his vote for president is diminished by the Electoral College — but "I still might vote."
Wilkes added, "I don't really put my faith in any politician anymore. You can't know their real intent and if it's really benefiting the country or just their selected group."
Leading the voter-registration drive on campus, SOU Associated Students President Joshua Danielson said they hope to register 1,300 students this year, compared with about 1,000 four years ago.
"We tell students it's very important for us to get together and be able to tell legislators we have lots of students registered and that we want a stop to the continual disinvestment in higher education," said Danielson.
An obstacle, he notes, is that many students are from other states and attend SOU on a Western Undergraduate Scholarship and would lose residency in their home state if they vote in Oregon.
State Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, who recently spoke to the Oregon Student Association at SOU, said he's heard comments from young voters that they didn't get what they wanted from the last presidential election.
Nevertheless, he said, "I feel the turnout is going to be close to 2008 because there's so much energy from the economic collapse plus all the damage done to the country in the eight years before that. There's a strong desire to get people out to vote."
State Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, said he thinks there's a high level of interest in this election.
"People are very much engaged in the election," Richardson said, "and concerned about what the future holds for their children."
Allen Hallmark, former chairman of the Jackson County Democratic Central Committee, said he's disappointed in President Barack Obama's performance on his promises but, unlike many of his friends, he does not plan to vote for a third-party candidate.
"The main thing is that people ought to vote," said Hallmark, "and learn the issues and candidates. They have the freedom to vote or not, but it doesn't take that much time to get up to speed — and we'd get a lot more of what we want and the country would work a lot better if they did."
Secretary of State Kate Brown visited upstate high schools Tuesday to encourage voter registration, which can now be done online at oregonvotes.gov and takes only 10 minutes, according her website. She offered to send a five-minute video to schools, detailing how to register and vote.
Local high schools didn't have any events for Oregon Voter Registration Day. Todd Bloomquist, director of secondary education for the Medford School District, said the subject is covered in social science classes and that registration "is up to the individual and is not a function of public schools."
The deadline for voter registration in Oregon is Oct. 16.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.