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Online tool lets youth be heard

October 2, 2000

Young voters will be able to do more than just watch the upcoming presidential debates, thanks to a new online poll to be launched Tuesday.

SpeakOut.com and Youth Vote 2000 are sponsoring the “National Youth Meter,” a second-by-second poll that will allow voters to express their opinions about presidential candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore during the presidential debates Oct. 3, Oct. 11, and Oct. 17.

Rekha Chalasani, director of public affairs at SpeakOut.com, which allows people to voice their opinions on a variety of issues, said this will be a unique opportunity for young voters to share their opinions.

“America’s youth is a group of people we don’t tend to hear from often,” she said. “This gives young people a chance to really react to what they like and don’t like.”

The Youth Meter is made possible through “dial poll” technology. SpeakOut.com used the same technology to allow people to share their opinions during the GOP and Democratic conventions.

Participants rate what the candidates are saying as they watch the debates on television using a scale from 0 to 100. It is recorded by the computer and information is reported back instantly.

“We’re very proud of what this technology is and what it can accomplish,” Chalasani said. “This isn’t just what political experts think. This is what real people think.”

People will be able to review results after the debate. Corporations will use the results for academic research, public interest studies and media reporting. Youth Vote 2000 wants to use the event as an avenue to help young people find their own voice and start voting.

“When I was in college, my friends were very detached from politics, and they often just carried over their parents’ views,” Chalasani said. “Now, they’ll be able to decide for themselves.”

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Census Bureau, only 43 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds were registered to vote and only 30 percent actually voted in the 1996 presidential election. Fifty-one percent of 20- to 24-year-olds were registered to vote and only 33 percent voted in the same election.

Jeanne Raven, president of the MSU Democrats and a social relations senior, thinks those statistics are horrible but said the poll is a sign that things could be changing.

“I think that this is really interesting because it’s noticing that youth do matter,” she said. “It’s always important for youth to be heard. I’m thinking about doing (the Youth Meter) myself.”

Raven said political awareness is increasing and can continue to do so if the right tactics are used.

“More people seem to know something now. People are often apathetic, but you have to get their attention,” she said.

John Dervin, Youth Vote 2000 political and debates director, said that their non-partisan organization has been working on other projects to increase youth awareness and interest.

The organization has been on a yearlong campaign to have a youth debate among the major presidential candidates where young voters could ask questions. In January, Gore agreed to participate in a youth debate. Bush has not committed to the debate.

“More than 77 percent of the country supports a youth debate. I don’t think 77 percent of the country supports general tax cuts,” Dervin said.

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