Voter-fraud groups tackle high-schools

More ACORN stories: hereVoter-fraud stories: here

If Barack doesn't win, don't blame ACORN

Jahneil McMahon long ago made up her mind about the presidential election. She connected with Barack Obama's speeches, felt his experiences would help him understand her life in Hartford (CT). She prefers his views on education, taxes and the mortgage crisis, issues she says particularly affect her city.

Trouble is, she's only 17. Which is why, on Thursday morning, McMahon paced the aisles of the Hartford Public High School auditorium with a stack of voter registration forms and a handful of pens. She passed them out to her older schoolmates and monitored from the aisle as they filled them out.

"If I could start helping now, maybe someone else's voice can be symbolic of mine," she said.

Although most attempts at registering young voters center on college campuses, a new national effort to reach out to an even wider group of young people is underway.

Because the majority of black and Latino 18- to 24-year-olds don't attend college, researchers have warned that focusing voter registration efforts on college campuses risks missing out on half of the nation's young people, particularly black and Latino youth.

"This is a population that has not been tapped," said Sharon Patterson-Stallings, a member of the Hartford Board of Education and chairwoman of the North End United ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. "We have not really educated people about voting."

Part rally, part voter registration drive and part lecture on the importance of voting, Thursday's program at the high school's Law and Government Academy was one of more than a dozen assemblies held this week at high schools in cities nationwide.

Organized by the community groups ACORN and Project Vote, they are aimed at increasing voting among low-income and minority young people, who have historically been underrepresented in the voting booth.

Among 18- to 24-year-olds in 2004, 59 percent who attended college voted, compared with only 34 percent of those who had not, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement at Tufts University. The gap has been relatively constant for 30 years.

Within that age group, 47.3 percent of eligible black voters cast ballots in 2004, compared with 49.8 percent of white eligible voters. Only 33 percent of eligible young Latino voters voted, according to the center.

In all, 21 people registered to vote Thursday — the vast majority of the academy's 400 students won't be 18 by the election — but all of them got a multifaceted lesson on voting.

Urania Petit, a member of ACORN, asked the students how many let their parents pick out their clothes. That drew laughter. How many of you would go to a restaurant and let your parents order for you? she asked. More laughter.

"Why in the world would you let them elect who you want to represent you?" she asked.

Although the assembly was nonpartisan, Charles Ross, ACORN's quality control manager, conducted a voice vote on the students' presidential preferences. John McCain drew a handful of cheers. Obama drew a roar.

Students had varied reasons for their choice. Brian Barracks, 18, said that based on the two candidates' tax plans, Obama would be more mindful of the underclass and McCain would be more focused on the wealthy. He also liked that Obama did not grow up wealthy.

Obama's biography also appealed to Jeinny Campo, 15. "He chased his dream, he got what he wanted, now he's working for it," she said.

Campo, a junior who wants to be a police officer, said she's especially concerned about taxes and oil prices; her parents don't have much money and should get a tax cut, she said.

"I wish I was old enough to vote," she said during the assembly. "I'd vote like a thousand times for Barack."

Because she's too young to vote for herself, Xiomara Colon, 16, has been trying to influence her relatives' votes.

The high school senior is particularly concerned about the war in Iraq. Colon has several relatives in the Army and Navy and worries that many young people join the military because it's their only way to pay for college or earn money. She thinks the president should make sure that young people have other options to serve the country besides going to war.

Colon is not sure whom her father plans to vote for. Her mother typically doesn't vote — she tends to be too busy working to pay attention to the elections, Colon said. But this year she hopes they will vote on her behalf.

"I hope that they choose the right president," she said.


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