Thursday February 23, 2012

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Many 17-year-olds in Vermont will have the opportunity to voice their opinions in this year's primary elections, but whether they will vote remains to be seen.

In the 2010 general election, voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to allow 17-year-olds who turn 18 by the Nov. 6 general election to participate in the presidential primary March 6 and in the Aug. 28 state primaries.

While Bennington Town Clerk Timothy R. Corcoran said no 17-year-olds in town had registered to vote by Wednesday, some Mount Anthony Union High School students who took a global issues class with Mike Molloy in the fall said they planned to register by the Feb. 29 deadline.

"I just found out this morning that I can now legally vote," said junior Anastasia Haytko, "and to me that's kind of amazing."

"It's really important to be an involved member of the community, so voting is definitely really important to me and my family," Haytko said.

Like Haytko, senior Dillon Duval plans to vote in the presidential primary after becoming interested in "everything that has to do with politics" in Molloy's class. Duval has been following the televised Republican debates, which he said has made him even more excited about voting for the first time.

"I just started to enjoy listening to all of the different points the people had to put out there, and I think it's important to vote for who you think is going to be in charge of the country and who has the best plan for its future," Duval said.


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Both Duval and Haytko acknowledged that their age plays a role in which issues they weigh the greatest when selecting a candidate. Both pointed to the cost of higher education and the economy as two of the most important issues.

"Things like Social Security (and) Medicare, at the moment, are not as important because it doesn't affect me, really," Haytko said.

Like many her age, Haytko said her political preferences are largely influenced by her parents, but since she has been following the issues more closely she's also formed her own opinions.

"Now that I feel more informed about it, I have been disagreeing with my parents about some major issues," she said.

Many eligible 17-year-olds will not be voting in the presidential primary, which Duval and Haytko said is likely because many people their age don't follow politics closely and are not thinking about life on their own after high school or college.

"I think with 17-year-olds it's kind of a lack of knowledge about what's going on in the world and what the actual issues are," Duval said.

Corcoran said part of the reason he hasn't registered any 17-year-old voters may just be because the presidential primary doesn't excite them.

"There's no opposition in the Democratic primary so there's not a lot of incentive," Corcoran said.

Molloy suggested part of the reason may also be a lack of knowledge that 17-year-olds may vote in the primaries for the first time this year. On Wednesday Molloy sent teachers an email encouraging them to talk with their classes about the change in the law.

Vermont's presidential primary is on Town Meeting Day, March 6, which is also Super Tuesday with 11 states across the nation holding elections.

Six Republican candidates are listed on Vermont's primary ballot, including Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Jon Huntsman. The only Democrat is President Barack Obama. Vermont voters may select one party's ballot in the primary.

Seventeen-year-olds may not take the voter's oath before turning 18 and therefore may only may vote in primary elections, not in town elections on March 6.

Anyone interested in registering to vote may do so at their town clerk's office. They must bring their driver's license or provide the last four digits of their Social Security number.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com