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banner Friday, 3 November, 2000, 23:54 GMT
US youth vote online
The Youth E-Vote website
Organisers say that the ease of online voting will increase youth turnout
By BBC NewsOnline's Kevin Anderson in Washington

Turnout amongst the youngest voters in the US has been declining ever since the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1972.

In an effort to reverse this trend, several groups, foundations and private corporations created the Youth E-Vote, which they say is the first national online vote ever.

More than 10,000 schools participated, and 1.25 m students from all 50 states cast their votes electronically.

It was the largest online vote ever held, more than 30 times larger than the previous record, which was the Arizona Democratic Primary earlier this year.

Downward spiral

A ballot box
Less than half of 18 to 24 year-olds plan to vote
Organisers stressed that the results should not be used a predictor of the results of the national election next week, but the results of the online mock vote gave Republican George W Bush a clear victory with 56% of the vote.

Democrat Al Gore received 38% of the vote. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader got 4% of the vote, and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan received 2%.

But more important than the result for the organisers was getting young people to vote.

Only 32% of voters age 18 to 24 voted in the 1996 presidential election, according to Youth E-Vote founder Doug Bailey.

Quoting a study by MTV, Leslie Reynolds with the National Association of Secretaries of State (Nass) said that while young people are interested in causes, a majority are not interested in voting or politics.

At least three-quarters of 18 to 24 year-olds expressed support for a number of issues including gun control, expanding healthcare coverage to the uninsured and expanding hate crimes legislation to cover gays.
George and Barbara Bush vote
Seniors in the US vote more than the youth, and politicians focus on older voters

But only 50% are registered to vote, and only 46% are certain that they will vote.

And Mr Bailey said that it has created a cycle where politicians do not focus on youth issues because youth do not vote, and fewer young people choose to vote because they feel that politicians do not speak to their issues.

Some 70% of young voters say that politicians are out of touch with the concerns of youth, and the same amount say that the election will not impact them personally.

Promise and challenges

Organisers of the Youth E-Vote offered several suggestions on how to reverse the trend of declining youth participation.

Ms Reynolds said that the Nass study found that if parents voted that their children were much more likely to vote, and several of the organisers said that improvements in and a greater emphasis on civic education would help boost young voter turnout.

But the convenience of online voting would also increase participation by young voters, said Bryant Hall, a Youth E-vote advisory council member and high school student in the state of Maryland.
An absentee in ballot
Students away from home usually must make the effort to vote by absentee ballot

Any attempt to increase access to voting would increase the voting population he said.

And Mr Bailey predicted: "Ten years from now, we will all be voting online, or we will all that have that opportunity, and all of these students 10 years from now will say they took part in the first national online vote."

But the challenges that Youth E-Vote faced demonstrate the obstacles that will have to be overcome before online voting is an accepted reality.

Mr Bailey said that the online election effort tried to address the Digital Divide, the gulf between the Internet haves and have-nots.

Some schools have computers in every classroom, but other schools only have a few computers for a relatively large student population.

And Arthur Linder, the principal of a school for the troubled youth of Washington DC, said that his school struggled to get their vote through the school district's overloaded servers.

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See also:

11 Mar 00 | Americas
Big turnout in Arizona cyber-vote
17 Aug 00 | Americas
Campaigners deaf to youth concerns
03 Oct 00 | Americas
Getting out the youth vote
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