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Talking 'bout my generation

February 24, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

Washington County Technical High School senior Eric Willet plans to cast his first vote for the president of the United States in the 2004 election.

"Our generation is the next generation to run this country, and if we're going to run it, we have the obligation to pick our leaders," said Eric, 18, of Williamsport.

He is among an increasing number of young people who plan to exercise their voting muscles for the first time this year - an increase in voter interest that teacher Rossana Larrick attributes to young people's heightened awareness of national and international issues, including the war with Iraq, and such first-time voter registration initiatives as Rock the Vote, www.rockthevote.com on the Web.

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"I think voter turn-out will be higher this year, and I think it's mainly because of what's going on in the Middle East," said Larrick, who teaches modern American history at the technical high school in Hagerstown. "I think [young voters] have a vested interest in speaking up for what they believe in and what's going on."

While high school seniors in the Chambersburg (Pa.) Area School District must register to vote at the courthouse, seniors in Washington County and in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle can now register to vote at school. At Jefferson High School in Jefferson County, W.Va., the Student Government Association runs the voter registration project, principal Susan Wall said.

"It's a peer-promoted registration process," she said. "Whenever you have students motivating students, that seems to work best."

The U.S. Constitution mandates that a presidential election is to be held once every fourth year. Primary elections and caucuses - meetings at which delegates are chosen to represent the state's interests at national party conventions - help determine which candidate will make the final ballot for the general election the first Tuesday in November.

Registered voters are allowed to participate in the primary election by casting a secret ballot with their choice of candidate for the political party's nomination. In the Tri-State area, voters are only allowed to choose candidates within the voter's own registered political party. These closed primary elections will be held in Maryland on March 2, in Pennsylvania on April 2 and in West Virginia on May 11.

In order to officially represent a political party, a candidate must be nominated by that party. At the national conventions, delegates from each state cast votes for the candidate who will represent the political party in the general election. A candidate must receive a majority of the delegates' votes to secure the party's nomination.

Candidates without political party affiliation can run for president, but they must meet certain requirements, such as collecting a certain number of signatures to support their nominations, and filing a declaration of candidacy and a certification of the candidate's selection for vice president with the secretary of state prior to circulation of the candidate's nominating petitions, according to information from the Project Vote Smart Web site at www.vote-smart.org.

There are more than 40 political parties - from the American Independence Party to the Veterans Industrial Party - but the Democrat and Republican parties have long dominated the American political system. This year's general presidential election will likely come down to a race between Republican President George W. Bush and either Democratic candidate Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts or Sen. John R. Edwards of North Carolina, political analysts predict.

Seventeen-year-old Anna Nisewarner of Hagerstown can't vote in this March's primary election - she doesn't turn 18 until August - but she plans to cast her ballot in November.

"It's important to vote because many people don't have the chance to do it. Since we do, we need to take advantage of the opportunity," she said. "I don't want someone to run the country I live in that doesn't have the same positions as me."

A registered Republican, Anna said she's opposed to such hot-button issues as gay marriage and abortion. She plans to vote for President Bush.

Stephen Rock, 18, of Smithsburg, has registered as a Republican but hasn't yet made up his mind about who he'll vote for, he said. Stephen is most interested in helping to elect a candidate who's keen on improving the economy. Fellow Republican and first-time voter Aaron Gruber, 17, of Hagerstown, wants a president who will lower taxes and take a hard look at the Medicare system, he said.

"If they can't change something for the better, then what are they good for?" asked Krystyna Wiles, 17, of Boonsboro. Krystyna, who turns 18 in June, is looking for a candidate who will support increases in funding for education and programs to keep kids off the streets, she said. A registered Republican, she hasn't yet decided on a candidate.

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