Student from Bay Terrace gets young people to polls

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As the 2004 Democratic presidential contenders campaign for votes across the country, a Bay Terrace college student is rallying his peers to make their voices heard at the polls.

Matthew Silverstein, 21, a political science and history student at Baruch College in Manhattan, has formed Let’s Vote NY — a non-partisan grassroots group aimed at registering voters between the ages of 18 and 25.

“A lot of young people don’t seem to get the feeling that their voice matters,” said Silverstein, an intern for state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone).

Youth voter turnout since 1972, when 18- to 21-year-olds were first allowed to vote, has declined from 55 percent to 42 percent among eligible 18- to 24-year-olds, according to a 2002 study by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at the University of Maryland.

Silverstein’s group, currently made up of about two dozen young volunteers from all over Queens, plans to fan out across Queens this spring to hand out voter registration forms outside high schools and shopping centers.

The group will also recruit elected officials to visit high school seniors in their history classes to encourage them to vote.

“Registering young voters and making sure (they) are incorporated into the system is important because the young people of today are tomorrow’s future,” said Silverstein. “There hasn’t been any major push in the surrounding area to get young people to vote.”

It was while serving as the deputy campaign manager for Councilman Oliver Koppell (D-Bronx) in 2003 that “I saw there was such a lack of interest in politics among young voters,” said Silverstein, who also helped in the re-election of City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside).

The Bay Terrace native said many young people in his neighborhood did not even know who their local politicians were, even though it was those very politicians who made crucial decisions on issues like SUNY and CUNY tuition hikes.

He formed a discussion group on Yahoo! and has made voter registration forms his trademark birthday gift for 18-year-olds, and is planning to regale his younger sister with one.

“As soon as she turns 18, she knows the form will be on her bed,” he said.

Silverstein has approached SUNY Potsdam and Clarkson University in the same town in upstate New York about forming chapters.

Silverstein has also reached out to the Queens Young Democrats and Young Republicans, and has received the support of several Democrats in the City Council.

Voter registration drives at St. John’s University and the Whitestone Shopping Center are in the works, as are events with Rock the Vote, a national youth voter organization.

Silverstein said Let’s Vote NY will not be fully active before the March 2 Democratic primary in New York, but “it seems like we’ll be in full force and ready for the presidential election.”

To get involved in Let’s Vote NY, e-mail

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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