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Vermont college students bicycle across the country to register voters

June 27, 2008

The Great American Voter Trek, a 47-day, 1,800-mile bike ride to register voters in big cities and small towns across America, is underway.

Middlebury College junior Nathan Williams and five other Vermont college students are riding from Burlington, Vt., to Laramie, Wyo., in an effort to rally political participation before the presidential election in November. Their journey takes them through small towns like Bowling Green, Ohio, as well as big cities like Chicago, where they will set up a voter registration booth at the Lakeview Music Festival on July 6. At the bigger locations, the team will give away free products and Vermont vacation package prize drawings provided by the companies which are sponsoring the trip.

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Why focus on registering voters? Of the 197 million citizens who were eligible to vote in the last presidential election, only 142 million were registered, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The team of six wants to change that.

"Everyone is trying to manipulate these unregistered voters," Williams said. "Our goal is simply to give them an opportunity to register to vote and participate in our democracy."

The cyclists, who began their trek June 16 in Burlington, will make stops in key cities including Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago, Cedar Rapids and Omaha before ending in Laramie on August 1. The team is also stopping at 25 smaller towns along the route, where they meet with mayors and town clerks to reach out to registered and non registered citizens through events at diners and local gathering places.

"The majority of people that we meet are young - 18-25-year-olds," said Williams. "But there are also a surprising number of middle-aged adults who have never registered and find our trek a great opportunity to do so."

The trek route was chosen to highlight the importance of voting in an American democracy. Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote, and Vermont was the first to allow non property owners to vote.

The ride is challenging for Nathan and his team members because they have to cheerfully engage local residents in conversation after riding for an average of 70 miles every day.

"After we hit the 500-mile mark, things started to deteriorate," he said. "Every time I sit on the seat I feel intense pain. On the positive side, though, it's probably the only time in my life that I'll be able to eat a 10,000 calorie diet."

Nathan's teammates include Max MacDonald, whose idea it was to organize the trek, and Matt Healy of St. Michael's College, Ali Tesoriero Saslafsky and Megan Newhouse of The University of Vermont and Hayden Coon of Johnson State College.

The cyclists conduct daily call-ins to WDEV Radio in Vermont to keep listeners up-to-date on their activities. For more information about the trek route, event locations, daily updates and photos, visit