Conventional wisdom states that young people don’t vote but some students at Central Oregon Community College and Oregon State University-Cascades plan on bucking that trend.

“You get a lot of young people who don’t use their right to (vote), and it’s important,” said COCC student Jake Mortensen, 18. “Everyone’s like, ‘Ah, it doesn’t matter, it’s one vote,’ but it matters. One turns into three, and all that.”

The Bulletin spoke with 26 students at Bend’s two colleges, many of whom said they planned on voting, although most weren’t yet sure of which candidates and measures to support.

Turnout among young voters has grown nationally in recent elections. According to a 2017 study from Tufts University, voter turnout among more than 9 million college students jumped more than three percentage points from 2012 to 2016, to 48.3 percent. In March, a Harvard Kennedy School institute of Politics survey found that 37 percent of polled students would “definitely” vote, with 16 percent saying they “probably” would.

Similar political concerns popped up among Bend’s college students, including the high cost of higher education, women’s reproductive rights, gun control, government overspending, education funding and “Medicare for all.”

A few had strong opinions when it came to the closely-watched Oregon governor’s race between Gov. Kate Brown and Republican challenger Knute Buehler.

“I thought that I’d be voting for Kate Brown, but I’ve had some friends that have swayed me to open my eyes,” said OSU-Cascades student Shilo York, 26. “(Buehler) is more centered. He’s not so far on one side, he’s not so far on the other.”

Fellow Bend Beaver Lydia Leonardi, 21, said she’s leaning toward Brown.

“What she’s done already in the realm of higher education has been working well,” Leonardi said.

But not all students had political opinions. COCC student Jouidan Andrews, 18, said she wasn’t “educated enough on anything to have a political opinion.”

“I don’t know anything,” she said. “It’s like, this is the future of our generation, and I’m sitting here, eating a bacon sandwich.”

Many students didn’t have opinions on specific races or measures, with most saying they planned on reading up on candidates before they cast their ballot.

Almost every student interviewed also didn’t know much about the local elections in Bend and Deschutes County, with some not knowing the names of the mayoral candidates. One student asked if U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley were running for mayor.

This lack of political knowledge isn’t just a young-voter issue. A statewide poll released Tuesday by Oregon Public Broadcasting found that around 75 percent of voters either didn’t know the names of Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek, or didn’t know enough about the duo to have an opinion about them. Twenty percent felt similarly towards Buehler.

OSU-Cascades student Elizabeth Barajas-Hernandez, 19, said she’s “very skeptical” of promises by politicians and many of her peers didn’t even believe that their vote mattered.

“There’s some stigma … that our vote doesn’t really matter because older people vote more, so why should my vote count? It’s going to sway their way,” she said.

Alicen Cottew, 22, said she believed voting was ultimately pointless.

“I think the human race is like cockroaches and we’re destined to destroy each other,” the COCC student said. “So there’s no point in me making any decision in what I cannot control.”

Regardless, some students said they’ve recently become more aware of their political surroundings. OSU-Cascades student Natasha Bowles, 23, admitted she hadn’t paid much attention to midterm elections until she was shocked by Donald Trump’s victory in 2016.

And even many undecided students said they were pumped to mail in their ballot.

“That was one thing I was looking forward to about turning 18 was being able to vote,” said COCC student Chandra Holdridge, 18. “The presidential election got me really fired up, and I wish I was bold enough to do something then. Now that I can, I’m excited to choose the best (candidates).”

—Reporter: 541-617-7854; jhogan@bendbulletin.com

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