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Editorial: Good lesson in citizenship

Before we’re submerged in the political tsunami expected to crest with today’s Super Tuesday primaries, let’s give a hearty endorsement to politics on a smaller scale.
Students at West Rowan Middle School received an excellent introduction to the workings of our way of choosing leaders when they held a mock caucus and presidential primary last week. The exercise was the brainchild of West Rowan Curriculum Coach Julie Stolze, and judging from student enthusiasm, it’s one worth making an annual event and emulating elsewhere. Students took this lesson seriously, weighing candidates’ positions and considering other students’ election pitches before making their final choices. Would that a higher percentage of adult voters embraced the responsibilities of the voting booth as seriously.
While these students aren’t old enough to vote for real, don’t be surprised if November brings a surge in young voters. The candidacy of Democrat Barack Obama has been credited with inspiring more youth participation in politics, but this is a trend that began in the previous election. After dropping to an all-time low of 36 percent in 1996 and 2000, voting among those aged 18 to 25 grew 11 percentage points in 2004, inspired in part by youth-oriented initiatives like the “Vote or Die” campaign.
So far, early caucus and primary events have delivered encouraging news on the young voter front. About 43 percent of eligible voters under age 30 cast ballots in the New Hampshire primary, up from 18 percent in 2004. In Iowa’s caucuses, 13 percent of those under 30 turned out, up from 4 percent. We’ll see what today brings, but let’s hope this upswing isn’t a temporary phenomenon. A higher turnout among young voters is an excellent antidote to apathy, alienation and cynicism toward governing bodies and political institutions. While those West Rowan Middle students were conducting mock elections last week, in a few short years they’ll be eligible to cast real ballots and can put into practice their hands-on lessons in citizenship.

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