Iowa Alumni Magazine | February 2005 | People

Political Activist: Kiran Patel

By Mary Fishburn
Though still a freshman, Kiran Patel is already making her mark in politics.

Buttons, T-shirts, and handshakes helped Kiran Patel win the election.

Not for student government president or treasurer of the biology club—this UI microbiology and anthropology freshman from Cedar Rapids campaigned to become one of Iowa’s seven Democratic electors in the U.S. Electoral College. She achieved her wish this past spring when she was selected at her party’s district convention, shortly after becoming old enough to vote.

Even though Americans marked their ballots for Bush or Kerry in November, party representatives in the Electoral College actually cast the votes that put a candidate in the White House. Longtime party activists and leaders tend to secure Electoral College seats, so Patel felt very honored to earn the confidence of her colleagues.

"Being a member of the Electoral College was the most I could do for my party and the political system,” says Patel, who at age 18 is one of the youngest electors in history. “It’s a testament to the amount of respect that the Democratic Party gives to young people.”

Had John Kerry won the majority in Iowa, Patel and other Democratic electors would have convened in Des Moines in December to vote the Boston senator into office. However, President Bush’s victory sent Iowa’s Republican electors instead.

"I was a little shocked [at the election results],” admits Patel, “but democracy prevails.”

Patel used her position as an elector to spark interest among other young people about politics and voting. In the months leading up to the election, she spoke to government classes at her former high school and held her own voter registration drives—even venturing into a local strip club to register patrons. She plans to continue her political advocacy on campus by lobbying for progressive issues such as gay marriage and anti-sweatshop labor.

"There’s still a lot to do,” she says.