Lawrence high-schoolers urging 18-year-olds to vote

It’s an axiom in political circles: Old people vote. Young people don’t.

But a 17-year-old Lawrence High School senior, with the help of several classmates, is trying to change that.

“I would like to take a chance and prove those people wrong and show that young people are interested in voting and getting out to vote,” said LHS senior Kate Mather, the mastermind behind a planned “Promote the Vote” rally set for Sunday in South Park.

Mather and fellow members of the LHS Young Democrats club have been working with their counterparts at Free State High School to stage the event, which they hope will encourage many 18-year-olds to register and vote in this year’s November election.

Though the students are Democrats, they said their aim was registration, not the selling of Democratic candidates.

“We want people to stand for something. We think that awareness and discussion are the most important things, rather than a specific ideology,” said 17-year-old Julia Barnard, a senior at LHS and co-president of the club. “Even if a voter isn’t the most educated, even the habit of voting is important.”

Lawrence High School seniors, from left, Kate Mather, Julia Barnard and Sam Huneke hang Promote

Mather and some other students involved in organizing the registration rally will not be 18 in time to vote in this year’s election, they said, but that has not dampened their enthusiasm.

Experts say voters ages 18 to 25 are among the hardest to get to the polls.

When you’re that age, it is often more difficult to see the importance of voting because, “you don’t have a family. You don’t have a career. You’re not attached to society. You haven’t developed a self-interest to defend voting,” said David Burress, a retired Kansas University research economist and founder of the Ad Astra Institute, a public policy think tank.

And there are other reasons it is difficult to get young people to vote.

Mark Joslyn, associate professor of political science at KU, has been examining the 18-to-25 demographic in his political science class. Another reason young people shy from the polls is what he called the “fragmentation in the media environment.”

Rally set for sunday

A “Promote the Vote” rally will be from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the South Park gazebo and will feature speeches from some state legislators and two bands, The After Hours and The Atomic Blues.

Youths these days are exposed to more information from a broader variety of sources, and they might not choose to focus on politics. In 1975, for example, there were only three television networks and political coverage was a staple at each network.

“It’s simply about the kid with the iPod on,” Joslyn said. “Technology has changed what allows us to focus on ourselves as opposed to the public or our civic duty.”

The LHS students are hoping the rally this Sunday will pierce that information clutter and remind their peers of the importance of civic engagement.

“We worry about iPods and we worry about “Laguna Beach” (a television show) and we worry about who has the latest pair of shoes,” Mather said of her age group. “And that’s kind of sad because there are a lot more important things around us.”

Though the students are focusing their efforts on first-time voters, they said they’d gladly register anyone age 18 or over.