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Feb. 13, 2008

From the streets to the polls

by Elsi Wu, Online Sports Editor
Traversing the slippery sidewalks of Takoma Park Tuesday morning, senior Breton Sheridan tiptoes up a treacherous front walk that is quickly developing a sheer coat of ice to deliver a simple, friendly message: "vote."
After voting, this woman and her daughter wait to get their stickers. Julia Seiger
After voting, this woman and her daughter wait to get their stickers.


For the past week, Sheridan and scores of other politically-active citizens have been canvassing the streets to urge voters to cast their ballots. Working with the League of Conversation Voters (LCV), an independent organization that supports candidates based on their demonstrated environmental concern, Sheridan has crisscrossed the county - traveling everywhere from Langley Park to Gaithersburg - to show his support for Donna Edwards in the Fourth District Congressional Primary.

Fueled by the newly acquired right to vote - and the job's generous $11-an-hour salary - Sheridan and other Blazers have found themselves in the heart of the political process before having cast their first ballot.

According to Sheridan, canvassers can bring out three to five percent of the vote, a crucial fraction in close races that occur between candidates both at the national and local levels. "Last year, Donna Edwards lost by about two percent," says Sheridan. "I wanted to help make up the gap this election."

To do so, Sheridan set out with pamphlets supplied by the LCV and went door-to-door to explain the organization's support for Edwards. He also signed up 158 Blazer volunteers to encourage voter turnout by going door-to-door on Tuesday.

Senior Peter Lorenz, who also helped canvass for congressional candidate Donna Edwards, felt the charisma and character of presidential candidate Barack Obama helped fuel his shift from political apathy to activism. "The last presidential election I was 14, so as you get older you try to get more involved and appreciate the process more, especially in this big election."
Volunteers get ready for the rush of voters at the pre-voting station. Julia Seiger
Volunteers get ready for the rush of voters at the pre-voting station.

One of over 16,000 attendees at Obama's rally on the University of Maryland College Park campus, Lorenz was awed by how one candidate could induce such passion from young voters. "Of the 16,000 people, almost all of them were kids, " Lorenz says.

He also points to Obama's remarkable abilities as a communicator and orator. "He spoke about the integrity of America, and how as a world leader we need to set examples environmentally, diplomatically, educationally through bi-partisan efforts," he recalls.

Sheridan, who also attended the rally, was equally impressed and motivated by the experience. "I've attended rallies before, but this one was unique because it was a youth-based event. It was exciting to see young people care about politics instead of the usual divide between younger and older voters."

The impact of young voters has quickly gained importance since Maryland courts upheld a ruling that 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the general election can vote in primary elections.

Underage voters such as senior Sumih Chi had to suffer through the process of the hand-written provisional ballot as opposed to the automated voting machine, one notable kink in the so-far smooth process.

The ballots were issued so that votes of 17-year-old voters were only counted in partisan races, according to Montgomery County Board of Elections official Marjorie Roher. "The parties gave 17-year-olds the right to vote for party nomination, but they weren't entitled to vote for the non-partisan races, Board of Education and circuit court judge in the primary election," Roher says.

The unanticipated circumstances and additional information required for the provisional ballots had Chi and other under-18 Blazers fearing their votes would not be counted. "I left feeling like I didn't do anything," Chi says of the paper ballot.

Fortunately, all provisional and absentee votes in the state of Maryland are tabulated regardless of whether they affect the final outcome of the race, says Roher.

Senior Hilary Bragg, who was also active in a canvassing campaign for Edwards and attended the Obama rally, reflects on her first voting experience positively. "It was exciting, but a little anti-climactic since it's the same voting booth that we use for SMOB elections," she says.

Despite the unexpected familiarity, Bragg noted her heightened sense of purpose this time behind the voting booth. "After being at his rally the day before, it was great checking off 'Obama,'" she says.



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  • Richard Boltuck (View Email) on February 15, 2008 at 6:54 AM
    I was puzzled by this paragraph:

    "'The ballots were issued so that votes of 17-year-old voters were only counted in partisan races, according to Montgomery County Board of Elections official Marjorie Roher. "The parties gave 17-year-olds the right to vote for party nomination, but they weren't entitled to vote for the non-partisan races, Board of Education and circuit court judge in the primary election,' Roher says."

    When did Ms. Roher say that? I ask because the Md. Court of Appeals order last Friday confirmed that eligible registered 17-year-old voters may vote in ALL primary races, including the non-partisan school-board races. I hope the word got out to students about that. Please see this web page for details: http://www.elections.state.md.us/voter_registration/17_year_olds.html . (This page also includes a link to the actual court order). I was surprised that your article did not clarify this point.

    Best regards, Richard Boltuck
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