High school students encouraged to vote

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 11, 2002

America is the land of freedom, the land of opportunity, the land where hat salesmen and actors alike can rise through the ranks of government and become leaders of the nation.

However, many citizens don't take advantage of all the civic opportunities available to them, including one of the most basic -- voting.

This is especially true of people 18 to 20 years old.

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To encourage high school students to get interested and active in their civic duties, Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer has been traveling throughout the state, explaining to students how important it is to be a well-informed citizen, how important voting is and what they need to do to register to vote.

Friday, she made a stop in Austin to talk to the students at the high school.

Kiffmeyer explained she is trying "to promote citizenship overall. It's not all about voting, it's about the broader sense of citizenship."

Registering to vote is one of the first steps in becoming an active citizen, she said. She estimates that 50 percent of Minnesota residents between the ages of 18 to 20 turn out to vote at elections. Nationwide, she said the average is about 30 percent, "so as Garrison Kellior would put it, we're above average." Despite this, she's hoping that she will encourage more to vote because she believes that 50 percent is still too low.

It's not an easy task. "It's a challenge … getting above the noise of life. They're thinking about things like jobs, college, parties and I think that's where something like (her presentations) help," she said.

If young people can be convinced they need to begin voting at a young age, "it becomes a part of life. We're teaching them how to register for life and are encouraging them to become an informed voter with a healthy skepticism, not destructive cynicism," Kiffmeyer said.

"If we can get them there once, they'll come for life," Austin High School principal Joe Brown added.

Brown and AHS teacher Jeff Anderson have been working to bring elected officials and those running for public office to speak to high school students this year to help the students understand government and be comfortable with the state's leaders.

"America is designed upon the whole philosophy of representative democracy … if we don't do something different, people will not vote and we'll lose that quality of our government," Brown said.

As a former Iowa state senator and a former government teacher, that's something he firmly believes and he believes just as strongly that "once you vote, you tend to vote for the rest of your life."

Call Amanda L. Rohde at 434-2214 or e-mail her at amanda.rohde@austindailyherald.com