Poor voter turnout createsclass of young and voiceless | PostIndependent.com

Poor voter turnout createsclass of young and voiceless

Johnathon Mullen of Rifle faces an interesting dilemma.He wants to vote, but he doesn’t know how to register to vote.”I really think schools need to bring up politics more often rather than teach the history of yesterday,” Mullen said. “That’s why people my age don’t vote; they don’t know what’s going on.”Mullen, 18, is right: Young people aren’t voting.Voting rates among 18- to 24-year-olds are at a national low, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.From 1972, the first year 18-year-olds were allowed to vote, to 2000, voting percentages among 18- to 24-year-olds declined 13 percent, according to the Center.In 2000 only 36.1 percent of people 18-24 voted, according to the Center.But hope exists.Several organizations are encouraging young voters to get informed, get registered and vote.The New Voters Project is a grassroots movement created to increase voter turnout among 18- to 24-year-olds by informing young people about their voting rights, current issues and political candidates. The New Voters Project is active in six states, including Colorado and will target 2 million young voters. “If we ask young people to vote, they’ll show up,” said Ben Prochazka, state field director for the New Voters Project. “We need to break the cycle of negativity between politicians and political campaigns and young people.”The center conducted a survey of 18- to 29-year-olds in 1996, 2000 and 2004 to determine how often young people think about voting. From 1996 to 2004, voter interest increased from 51 percent to 58 percent, yet voter participation declined.”Every year there’s a swing voter,” Prochazka said. “Young people represent one of the greatest swing voters because they are completely up for grabs. They’re more concerned about issues that affect them than political parties so it becomes a question of whether they will or won’t vote.”Out-of-touch politicians, old boring issues such as social security and lack of accessible political information deter young voters from voting, said Christina Yeamans, 19, of Paonia.”If I really thought someone was impressive I would vote,” Yeamans said. “Politicians say what they think we want them to say so we think they’re neat. I’m just not impressed by that.”In the last presidential election, only 30 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds in Colorado voted, according to the Center.This year, the project hopes to register more than 260,000 of Colorado’s 450,000 18- to 24-year-olds, by standing on street corners, knocking on doors and providing Internet registration links.It will take a lot more than the New Voters Project – more concerned politicians, modernized political agendas – to convince Yeamans to vote.”In a lot of cases it doesn’t seem like politicians cater to young people,” Yeamans said. “Old concerns are fine, but other things need to be taken care of.”Candidates don’t appeal to young people because they address issues such as the war and higher education without telling young people how it will affect them, Prochazka said.The Web sites of the two most prominent political parties, Democrats and Republicans, do not have sections or links devoted to young voters and their concerns.Jim Larson, Republican Party chairman in Garfield County, said putting a section on the Republican Web site for young people would be a good idea.”The effect of young voters on the election depends, of course, on how many young people vote,” Larson said. “If they’re energized and familiar with issues they could have a significant impact on many races this fall.” Jimmy Snowden, 22, of New Castle, said although becoming politically informed is difficult, voting is a necessity. “I’m voting because somebody’s got to do it,” Snowden said. “We should care about voting because we’re the ones that have to live in it.”For some, such as Mullen, getting information isn’t a problem; learning how to vote is. None of the young adults interviewed learned how to register to vote in school; they learned through parents or friends.”This spells out a problem,” Prochazka said. “Voting really is all about a new process for them and it’s not taught in high school civics programs, which are continually getting cut.”Registration directions are on the New Voters Project Web site.The New Voters Project will travel throughout Colorado and will be in Garfield County by the end of the summer, Prochazka said.Contact Ivy Vogel: 945-8515, ext. 534ivogel@postindependent.comVoter Registration Fact Sheet:Election Day November 2, 2004To be eligible you must be 18 by Election Day, not when you registerYou must be a U.S. citizen and resident of Colorado for 29 days before electionRegistration forms are due 10 days after signature and 29 days before electionCounty clerk has list of voting precincts; call 945-2377Information provided by New Voters Project

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