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Young adults not rushing to register

ADDISON COUNTY — An estimated 50 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 turned out to vote in the 2008 presidential elections, setting national records for youth turnout.
In the lead up to the elections this November, though, clerks in Addison County say they haven’t seen a huge rush of younger voters registering.
“I haven’t had any young kids come to the counter (to register),” said Vergennes city clerk Joan Devine, thinking back to the past couple of months. “Just our regular people — ones who have moved into town.”
She said that in the next couple of weeks, she is expecting Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, to register about 60 new voters during a visit to Northlands Job Corps before elections, but she doesn’t expect many more young voters to register before the registration deadline on Oct. 27.
Countywide, there has been little more than a slow trickle of new voter registrations. Bristol town clerk Therese Kirby said that so far, new registration numbers have been far from stacking up to the piles that came in before the presidential election two years ago.
“Maybe we’ve gotten a couple — you get a handful of kids every year,” she said. “The biggest drive was right before the presidential election.”
Still, certain areas are seeing the results of efforts to register young voters. Middlebury town clerk Ann Webster said she has been getting up to 50 voter registrations each week from a group of Middlebury College students involved in the Race to Replace environmental campaign.
One of the Race to Replace leaders, Pier LaFarge, said that members of the group are working with the nonpartisan, statewide Vote Green Gov organization. Middlebury College students alone have knocked on upwards of 2,000 doors on the college campus, in the town of Middlebury and at the University of Vermont and registered hundreds of voters, though LaFarge said he didn’t have an exact count yet.
On campus, he said he has registered a few native Vermonters who were not old enough to vote in the last election, and many who are from or were already registered in other states.
The environmental studies major, who will graduate this February, said that the door-to-door campaign has given him a perspective on the factors that keep young people away from the polls.
“We are insulated from some of the effects of the system by our parents, be it taxes or property rights,” said LaFarge. “We’re a step removed, economically and personally.”
On the older end of the young voter spectrum, Sarah McClain of Lincoln said that she has seen high levels of voter involvement among her friends.
Last week, she and her husband, Owen, both 30, hosted an event for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Shumlin at their house. And though it was snowing, more than 100 people showed up.
“A lot of my friends have moved back in the past couple of years,” she said. “They’re very, very interested in voting for candidates they believe in.”
She said especially those friends of hers who have moved from larger cities feel that they can more easily get involved in Vermont politics, and that they have a voice on the statewide political scene.
“We’re thinking, ‘OK, we’re settling here, let’s really start to be a part of this,’” McClain said.
She said that education is especially important to her, since it will affect her two-year-old daughter, Lillian. And, she said, the issue of jobs is an important one for Vermont as it goes into the future.
“We want a competitive job market,” she said. “We’re both ambitious people, and we want there to be jobs that can keep us here,” McClain said.
“Everyone I know is voting,” she added.
TO THE POLLS
High school and college-age voters, especially those not familiar with Vermont politics, may not feel as strong an urge to vote come Nov. 2 as the McClains.
“Young people don’t live in a social environment in which (voting is) talked about. There’s not that buzz, that awareness,” said LaFarge. “So we see our job, in some ways, as to introduce that awareness.”
To make sure that the newly registered Vermont voters cast their ballot, Race to Replace has registered many students for absentee ballots so that they have the chance to get their votes in early. A text message reminder will go out to cell phone numbers that the group has collected on Nov. 2, reminding students to vote, and the group is also planning a march from the campus down to the town offices.
For their part, teachers and administrators at Otter Valley Union High School are also working to raise awareness among students all the way back to ninth grade.
Bill Petrics, the chair of the social studies department at OVUHS, said that the school will host Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, and Democratic state Senate candidate Bob Baird of Pittsford for a schoolwide assembly on Oct. 29, after which point the whole school will participate in a mock election using ballots and ballot counting machines. In the meantime, social studies classes are reviewing the candidates for the state races.
Petrics said this process has the benefits of preparing the students, especially the older ones, to fill in the paper ballots come Election Day, and teaching all the students how to inform themselves about candidates.
“By the ninth grade, (students) really need the skill of gathering point-of-view information and filtering how it matches their own point of view,” said Petrics.
One student has no doubt that he will be voting in the upcoming election. Mount Abraham Union High School student Patrick Etka said he registered before the primary election, and is looking forward to participating in his first regular election.
“I’ve kind of been into politics my whole life,” said Etka.
The 18-year-old senior said that although he hasn’t heard much about the upcoming elections at school, he makes it a point to keep up with the news on his own.
“It’s the idea that our country is founded on,” he said. “Everyone has a voice. When you vote, you’re expressing your voice.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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