Will e-voting turn things around?

It's been 10 years since Rock the Vote and MTV's Choose or Lose started reaching out to young nonvoters, and there are those who say such efforts helped to lift turnout among young voters in 1992.

But that was then. This is now, the age of the Internet, and some analysts hope e-voting will prove to be the greatest boon yet to getting young people engaged in politics.

Predictions are that e-voting will be widely used by the 2008 elections, if concerns about voter fraud and unequal access are overcome. With young people so comfortable in the realm of point-and-click, the question becomes: Why not voting?

The ability to vote from home would put the lie to the argument "I don't have time." But simply adding a new method of voting doesn't address the larger issues of alienation or cynicism that keep many young people away.

To address those deeper problems, the group Third Millennium this year is sponsoring a research project called Neglection 2000 that examines low youth turnout - and new ways to get political messages through to young people via the Internet.

"We want to get the campaigns to realize that the value of this technology is so great because it allows you to target so precisely," says Richard Thau, head of Third Millennium, citing the low cost of Internet advertising compared with television.

There is no doubt that young people are the most fluent users of the Web, and that the Internet opens new possibilities for politicians trying to communicate with the public. People motivated to search for political information on the Web have dozens of options at their fingertips - from nonpartisan sites that catalog candidates' positions to the daily presidential "cyberdebate" launched Oct. 1 by 17 major Web sites.

Michael Cornfield, research director for the Democracy On-Line project at George Washington University in Washington, notes many new capabilities connected with on-line politics. These include catching up on important political events at one's own convenience, sharing information easily with family and friends, and donating money quickly.

In addition, he writes, "On-line politics might also be the vehicle to involve young people in political life."

But in an interview, he rejects the idea that a generation of low-turnout voters can be turned around through technology alone.

"You get people interested in politics by awakening their passions and giving them the sense that there's a reason to be involved," says Mr. Cornfield. "You need politicians to do that, not technology."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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