High school registrants keep voting drive alive

David Hunt // Published April 1, 2009 in Florida Times-Union

Duval County Elections Supervisor Jerry Holland takes advantage of Florida's 16-year-old pre-registration policy by registering nearly half of eligible students during a three-day drive.

With the questions - about the electoral college and presidential history - came the typical rumble of answers.

Who was the only president to resign from office?

Clinton. No, wait - Ford. Or was it Hoover?

The answer: Richard Nixon, the 37th president, disgraced by the Watergate scandal.

The trivia questions were part of an annual voter registration drive at Sandalwood High School. Duval County Elections Supervisor Jerry Holland said he'd collected 4,144 registrations and pre-registrations countywide after a three-day drive last week.

That's close to half of the 7,700 high school students county officials signed up in 2008, but volunteers are continuing the drive at several more schools as students come back from their spring break.

Holland gave two reasons for the drop. For one, there's no presidential election this year. But, more importantly, he said new procedures allowed much of this year's work to be done last year.

Holland said the pre-registration age dropped to 16, meaning students that young could fill out a form making them card-carrying voters as soon as they turn 18. That went into effect last year.

Holland said he expects steady growth in coming years after last year's drive cast a wider net than years past.

"We know our numbers are dropping even though we're in more schools because so many are already registered," Holland said. "We've seen the high school voter drive grow year over year and you'd like to see it grow more."

Anthony Waldo, 18, sat quietly in the back of the world history class where students played presidential trivia after turning in their registration forms.

He had already registered. He said it was a priority after his September birthday to sign up in time to vote for Barack Obama. A varsity basketball player, he compared the ballot to a game of hoops, saying, "every shot matters."

"It felt like I could make a difference," Waldo said.

James Lindsey, 18, felt similar. He registered last year at school.

"A guy behind me in the voting line said he hadn't voted in five or six elections, but he said he didn't like what was going on in the country and he wanted to change it," Lindsey said. "That's the point."

Fellow students Jeff Dato and Ashlee Linster, both 17, pre-registered but don't see the energy of the 2008 campaign coming back until Obama has the opportunity to run again, in 2012.

By then, the luster - the TV ads, the list of nationally known candidates - should pick up. Sometimes this is for better or worse.

"People become more engaged," Dato said. "But I think some people last year just said 'Obama' because everyone else was."

The importance of a vote in every election is something government and political science teacher Susan Tidwell says she stresses.

"We're very passionate about showing students the power in their hands," she said. "Everybody's equal on election day."



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