MANCHESTER, N.H. _ Like many of his classmates, Justin Normandin on Tuesday did something unusual for an 18-year-old: He voted. “Some people talk about change,” said Normandin. “I’m actually doing it.”
Normandin, a senior at Manchester High School West, is one of 15 students in his class who in a survey last month said they would vote in New Hampshire’s primary. And bucking a national trend of low-turnout among the young, all 15 carried through on their promise. They registered and cast their ballots.
In contrast, few young voters nationally seem caught up in Campaign 2000, according to a November survey by the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. The poll asked young people 30 years old and younger how much attention they were paying to the presidential election. About half of respondents said they were paying no attention at all. Another 40 percent were paying “only a little” or “just some” attention.
Among Manchester West’s seniors, many of those who voted doubted their friends would do the same. . “I know two of my friends aren’t voting,” said senior Abby Smagula. She scolded one friend who was ducking out of the first-in-the-nation primary. “It bothers me,” said Smagula, “because they’re missing the point.”
Jack Amero, a West High English teacher, praises students like Smagula. But he warned of the apathy that disenchants their peers. “The thing about teenagers — the one’s that are for something are really for it,” Amero said. “But some kids are just lazy.”
The students who voted cited personal and practical reasons for punching the ballot. Jeff Brown picked publisher Steve Forbes for his father’s sake. “My father gets killed each year with small-business taxes,” said Brown. “I know Forbes; ideas probably wouldn’t work out, but I’d like to see him try.”
Charles Perreault began going into voting booths in the fifth grade, when his mother took him with her to cast her ballot. The experience built up his desire to be part of the process, he said. This election, for the first time, he has his own vote. “Finally, I got vote,” said Perreault. “I’ve been waiting for this a long time.”
Classroom discussions and access to the candidates helped get senior Mike Duffy to the polls. Vice President Al Gore, Texas Gov. George Bush and Republican Gary Bauer have all made stops at Manchester West.
The New Hampshire primary season creates an excitement at the school, said Duffy, student council president. “Because the candidates came here, the kids got interested,” he said. “It’s a bigger deal than the last primary. Politics are more hyped up now.”