Ballot initiates: New kids on the bloc

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Though he's participated in dozens of elections, Craig resident Al Martinez still remembers the first time he voted.

"I was so anxious to turn 21 so I'd be able to vote," he said. "In my first election, the guy I voted for won by one vote."

While some 18-year-olds might register this year just to see what voting is like, political candidates are counting on their participation.

Voters in the 18- to 24-year-old range are turning into an important variable in the 2004 election. Both the President Bush and John Kerry campaigns have organized voter registration drives aimed at young people.

Youths are the nation's newest swing voters, with polls showing their support for the major candidates has vacillated in recent months. A Harvard University poll found that, in a five-month period, 19 percent of young potential voters changed their minds about whom they'd support in November.

Moffat County High School senior Kyle Morris isn't wavering. He's clear on whom he'll chose as the next president, and he registered to vote last week so he can make his voice heard.

"It's your right to vote, and you should exercise it," he said.

Morris isn't as certain which way he'll vote in other races, but he thinks he'll just follow a party line.

"Most likely I'll vote Democrat because that's my affiliation," he said.

Morris missed Thursday's presidential debate because it conflicted with homecoming activities, but he said he would have liked to see it.

He said he educates himself about the candidates by reading newspapers and watching the news.

"But I think parents have the biggest influence," he said.

In Craig, Moffat County Clerk and Recorder Elaine Sullivan said she's seen a number of 18-year-olds register to vote.

"We've had, I think, a good turnout for 18-year-olds," she said. "It feels like maybe patriotism is coming back."

Sullivan said several of the teens who have registered were surprised the process was so easy.

Others, such as Chandra Maneotis, came with their parents but looked for some privacy.

"She told me she didn't want her mom to see what party she registered for," Sullivan said.

Although voter registration may be high among 18-year-olds, turnout usually isn't.

Just 27 percent of all 18-year-old voters voted in the 2000 presidential election, compared with 73 percent of all 67- and 68-year-old voters.

Eighteen-year-olds earned the right to vote in 1971 and had their highest turnout for the 1972 election.

The voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 after the Vietnam War, when people protested 18-year-olds being drafted to fight, but not being able to vote.

Traditionally, young voters have been among the least likely Americans to vote. Exit polls from the 2000 election found that, of 48 million potential voters younger than 30, only about 18 million of them went to the polls.

"I think young kids don't think the issues have much to do with them," Morris said.

Moffat County High School American government teacher Liane Davis-Kling said the reasons young people do and don't vote vary.

"It depends on how they feel about the issues and the candidates," she said. "For some, it's more like just one more thing (adults) are nagging them to do."

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