New voter: a young woman’s political awakening
Hayley Colley of Tennessee is among the Americans who, on Nov. 4, will cast votes in a US presidential election for the first time.
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Hayley’s grandfather, Jerry Colley, a criminal defense lawyer here, had worked on the campaigns of Democratic Tennessee senators and governors for nearly a half century. His wife, Linda Colley, a hairdresser, has chaired the Maury County Democratic Party since 2000. Their home in a rural subdivision is decorated with photos of the couple with Gov. Phil Bredeson, former US Rep. Harold Ford Jr., and President Bill Clinton.Skip to next paragraph
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CNN is often on, and politics is a favorite subject at dinner. When Hayley was home, the Colleys, who first supported John Edwards and then Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primaries, would try to interest Hayley in the presidential race. Mrs. Colley told Hayley she had a stack of voter-registration forms right there in the closet.
But their granddaughter, with her rebellious streak, put her grandparents off. And her boyfriend, Nick Haag, a long-sideburned guitarist in a local band, who had registered to vote when he was 18, didn’t intervene.
“To me, it’s a person’s choice,” says Mr. Haag, who is more conservative politically than his girlfriend. “She’d been in college having a good time, and it hadn’t been a big part of her life.”
Tennessee saw one of the nation’s sharpest spikes this year in turnout rates for young people, according to CIRCLE. Some 15 percent of Tennesseans under 30 voted in the presidential primary, a nearly fourfold increase over 2000, which saw a suspense-free primary easily won by favorite son Al Gore.
On the nights of almost every big primary, Hayley sat in front of the TV with her grandparents as the results rolled in. But she didn’t vote in Tennessee’s contest.
“We hounded her to register,” Mrs. Colley recalled. “But she’s very independent, so you have to go with Hayley at her speed.”
Still, one issue in the race sometimes got her to open up, particularly while Mrs. Colley pretended to be busy making dinner. “The economy would get her attention,” Mr. Colley recalls.
Though Hayley seldom discussed them with her grandparents, other issues were starting to gnaw at her as well. Iraq war veterans she had met – including a co-worker at the restaurant – seemed defeated by the experience, and she began to feel that Bush had started the war on the basis of “a lie.”
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Bonnaroo is a rock festival that unfolds over four days each June on a farm in Manchester, Tenn., an 80-minute drive east of Columbia. When Hayley announced that she and Nick were going, her grandparents assumed the worst.
“I thought they’d be smoking marijuana and drinking beer,” Mr. Colley said.
Added Mrs. Colley: “We weren’t thinking voter registration – I’ll tell you that.”