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State hopes young-voter turnout keeps rising

BOISE – Turnout among Idaho’s youngest voters is on the rise, and Secretary of State Ben Ysursa wants that to continue.

“The idea is to get young adults interested and start a pattern,” Ysursa said – one he hopes will increase the state’s voter turnout overall.

“Idaho used to be in the top two or three in the country – we haven’t been there for a while,” he said. “We’d like to get back.”

Ysursa was joined by state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna on Monday to unveil a new Web site aimed at educating and encouraging young voters. At the same time, the officials are promoting an Idaho law, enacted in 2004, that lets people as young as 17 serve as poll workers.

That would accomplish two goals, Ysursa said, it would get young people involved in elections and increase their likelihood of voting once they turn 18, plus it would help out counties that have seen a shortage of poll workers.

“Our poll workers’ average age, let’s say it’s up there,” he said. “We need some fresh faces out at the polls. This is a way to get some folks involved.”

When the presidential election is held in 2008, Idaho will need lots of poll workers, Ysursa said.

Luna said even though Election Day will likely be a school day, he thinks it’d be a good project for 17-year-old high school seniors to miss class and work the polls.

“I think every school district ought to entertain that,” Luna said.

Thirty percent of Idaho’s voters ages 18 to 29 voted in the 2006 midterm election, according to a study by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE, at the University of Maryland. That was 5 percentage points higher than the national young-voter turnout that year.

National young-voter turnout rose from 22 percent in 2002’s midterm elections to 25 percent in 2006, while Idaho’s number from 24 percent to 30 percent.

Those figures are still lower than those of older voters: 58 percent of Idaho voters over age 30 cast ballots in 2006, compared with 54 percent nationwide. But Ysursa sees reason for hope. Idaho ranks 15th in the nation for youth voting, up from 18th in 2002.

“The number of young voters increased in Idaho in 2006, and the 2008 election is a significant opportunity to encourage even more young people to actively participate in our democracy,” Ysursa said.

The new Web site offers resources and lesson plans for teachers, as well as links and useful information for young voters. It can be accessed from the Secretary of State’s main Web page,, by clicking on the link to “Voting and Citizenship – Student and Teacher Resources and Services.”

Ysursa said any young people interested in serving as poll workers for elections should contact their local county clerk. The Web site includes a listing of county elections offices and phone numbers.