Web-posted September 1, 1996

Some young people mistrust political system

By Tom Corwin
Staff Writer

Even though he’s a Republican, Donny Minolfo, 18, liked what he heard from Vice President Al Gore during last week’s Democratic National Convention.

But he still won’t vote for him.

Jereto Henderson, 18, also liked what he heard, but he considers it just talk.

Channel Z 95.1 Augusta Rock The Vote
Chris Pace, 17, chats with WCHZ-FM radio personnel Zambini, left, and Tracy McLain at the Aiken Mall Saturday afternoon. Pace was asking how to register to vote when he turns 18 in January. Photo by Michael Holahan/Augusta Chronicle Staff

Traditionally, campaigns begin in earnest Monday, and though young voters say they are a little skeptical of what they hear from both sides, they are planning to be involved.

Some groups like Rock the Vote are trying to ensure young people are involved by registering them to vote. Tracy McLain of radio station WCHZ-FM, the local host for Rock the Vote, said Augusta is the smallest city where that campaign is being staged.

In addition to public service announcements from singers such as Sheryl Crowe and bands such as Everclear, urging young listeners to get off the couch and get involved in the system, Ms. McLain has been parking a van around the area and holding Rock the Vote rallies.

In six trips, she’s signed up 179 people and hopes eventually to register many more than her original 500-voter goal.

Twenty-four of those came Saturday during a two-hour stint at Aiken Mall.

“This is something I’ve been meaning to do but I never got the chance to get to the courthouse”

Jared McVicker, 18

“This is something I’ve been meaning to do but I never got the chance to get to the courthouse,” said Jared McVicker of Aiken, who turned 18 in January.

 Teens cruising past a table staffed by Ms. McLain and WCHZ promotions director and on-air personality Zambini were first attracted by the purple-and-neon-green “Channel Z” bumper stickers.

As the pair cajoled mostly young shoppers into filling out registration forms, conversation ranged from the political conventions to the latest album by nine inch nails.

Registering young people hasn’t been easy.

“Their experiences with government hasn’t given them much reason to have confidence in the system,” Ms. McClain said. “The point we make to them is not voting is not going to change things, either.”

Sometimes that distrust runs even deeper.

“They think if they register the government is going to come after them,” she said. “They think if they register to vote they’re going to get called for jury duty.”

But others have responded well. And that trend is holding true across the state.

Since Georgia started its Motor Voter registration system in January 1995, 18- to 24-year-olds have made up the biggest percentage of new people registered, accounting for nearly one in four new voter registrations, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office.

Whether they show up at the polls is another matter, said spokesman Chris Riggall.

“Traditionally, that probably has been the least participating demographic group across the board, across the nation,” Mr. Riggall said.

But when they have shown up, they have made a difference in Georgia. Secretary of State Lewis Massey said President Clinton got 43 percent of the vote from those 18 to 29, compared with 34 percent for then-President Bush and 22 percent for Ross Perot.

Mr. Clinton has shown he is sensitive to the needs of young people, particularly on issues such as education, abortion and the economy, said Paulette Payne, 22, a Paine College junior who voted for Mr. Clinton in 1992.

Although student loans may be a key issue now, the economy and jobs are students’ main concerns for the future, Ms. Payne said.

“Provide more jobs that will help us in the future,” she said. “We don’t need mediocre jobs that won’t do anything for us.”

Or any more promises, said Mr. Henderson, a Paine student from Swainsboro, who is still undecided.

“Everybody is going to say something you agree with; That’s why they’re out there,” he said.

 Fellow student Redonia July, 21, of Augusta said it is more of a choice of lesser evils.

“Bill Clinton did a fair-to-middlin’ job, which is more than I can say for some other presidents,” he said. “Bob Dole doesn’t have young people’s interests at heart.”

But he does have support in Aiken, at least in Dr. Robert Botsch’s political science class at the University of South Carolina-Aiken. Only a handful of students said they weren’t voting for Mr. Dole, though some, like Mr. Minolfo, did listen closely to the Democratic convention.

“I hate to say it, but some of the stuff the Democrats were saying made a lot of sense,” he said, though he couldn’t recall any specifics.

But he still wasn’t swayed. And neither was Paul Ferrara, 21, by Democrats’ self-congratulatory talk of raising the minimum wage.

“The minimum wage, it’s a quick fix,” he said.

 Most of the class was registered to vote, but not Nichole Arbaugh, 19, of North Augusta.

“I just haven’t had the time,” she said. But she will.

“Every vote counts,” she said.

Staff Writer Gregory Patterson contributed to this article.