Community college students have long been neglected as a source of votes.
DAYTON (AP) -- At pizza parties and rock concerts, public interest groups are trying to turn hard-to-reach community college students into voters, encouraged by an increased turnout of young voters in 2004.
"For some reason, no one has figured out how to target millions and millions of young people who go to community colleges," said Ben Unger, field director of the Student Public Interest Research Groups, which plan to recruit student volunteers to sign up other students.
About 11.6 million students -- or 46 percent of college undergraduates -- attend the 1,000 public community colleges in the United States.
They are tougher to find, however, than students at traditional four-year colleges because they usually don't live on campus and some take only a class or two. Community college students also are a widely disparate group -- from 18-year-old recent high school graduates to 30-something breadwinners -- and it is not clear which party would benefit the most from their vote.
Efforts prove effective
"We feel it's a really important pool of young students to dip into," said Dhira Dale, a project manager at the Center for Political Participation at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. "In 2004, we noticed that the efforts that were put forth to register young people and motivate young people really worked."
About 47 percent of Americans 18-24 voted in 2004, up from 36 percent in 2000, according to the Census Bureau.
At Hocking College in Nelsonville, students will be encouraged to register when they stop for free food at Pizza and Politics parties. Unregistered students from Lehigh Carbon Community College and Bucks County Community College in Pennsylvania were sought out during a series of rock concerts.
Registration tables have been set up outside the coffee shop at Pierce College in Los Angeles to catch students during class changes. Volunteers are competing to see who can register the most students, vying for prizes such as iPods and extra credit in political science classes.
At Fullerton Community College in Los Angeles, organizers are in the classrooms handing out voter-registration cards and urging students to vote.
Students arriving for fall classes at Lane Community College in Eugene, Ore., will get a pitch to register if they show up for free hot dogs at a campus cookout.
"We're trying to get to students by bribing them with food," said Alejandro Juarez, campus organizer of Associated Students at Lane Community College.
Why they don't register
Community college students who haven't registered to vote cite lack of time and more pressing issues.
"I've thought about it, but that's about it," Christopher Lay said as he waited to register for classes at Sinclair Community College in Dayton.
He and others said they would register on campus if they had the opportunity.
Both Republicans and Democrats see votes on campuses for their causes. Political analysts differ on which party stands to gain the most from the community college vote.