Citizen Student: Learning to Vote
Florida High Schoolers Debate Participating in Elections

audio icon Listen to Neva Grant's report.

audio icon Listen to Kim Boudinet's civics class discuss voting and politics.

Tyrone Jenkins
Tyrone Jenkins says political choices aren't different enough.
Photos: Athena Desai, NPR News

The Citizen Student Series

Part 1: Learning to Vote

morePart 2: Bringing the First Amendment into the Classroom

morePart 3: Civics Lessons Beyond the Classroom

morePart 4: Teaching Patriotism in Time of War

Brian Richiardi
Brian Richiardi plans to vote, but he's thinking more about his car.

"Driving's a lot more important than voting and I think that's how a lot of people my age see that."

Student Brian Richiardi, 18

Alex Smith and Kori Ferlise
Megan Cunningham, left, and Andrew De Jesus say voting is important.

Alex Smith and Kori Ferlise
Alex Smith, left, is "passionate" about voting but classmate Kori Ferlise isn't convinced it matters.

Nov. 5, 2002 -- Young voters are among the least likely to participate in today's elections. Fewer than one in five in the 18-24 age group are expected to show up at the polls. And experts say that even as young people grow up and settle down, they'll be less likely to vote than their parents.

Morning Edition's Neva Grant visits a high school in Florida -- the state that was the epicenter of the 2000 presidential election fiasco -- to find out how students learn about voting and why many remain ambivalent about it. It's the first in a series of monthly reports, called "Citizen Student," on how young Americans learn about citizenship.

Some seniors in teacher Kim Boudinet's honors civics class at Stoneman Douglas High near Ft. Lauderdale say they don't want to take the time to vote, or don't care enough about the issues. Many are disillusioned by what they see as the corruption inherent in politics. Or, they have their minds on other things at this stage of their lives.

Student Kori Ferlise says she does care about some issues -- like whether the United States will attack Iraq -- but they wouldn't sway her decision on whether to vote.

"I see how, if another person were put into office, this could be totally changed. You know, we could already be at war with Iraq, or not even thinking about going in. I understand how it relates. I just don't know whether I want to make a decision to have this person in office to make that decision for me," Ferlise says.

Eighteen-year-old Brian Richiardi plans to vote for the first time today, but he's got more pressing things on his mind. "Like, driving's a lot more important than voting and I think that's how a lot of people my age see that. It's not like when I wake up in the morning I say, 'Oh God, I better turn on the news and see if they came up with any new things to vote about.' No, I'm gonna wash my car and drive around. That's really what it is."

Tyrone Jenkins, 17, says he doesn't find enough distinct choices to make his vote matter. "Whether a Democrat or a Republican to me, my life is basically the same," Jenkins says. "My friends' lives are basically the same. So unless you're rich or unless you're poor, if you're like in the middle class, not much changes for you."

But several students say they intend to make their votes count.

"I'm so passionate about voting because the issues matter," Alex Smith says. "It's our future, it's the way that we're going to live, and the way that we're gonna grow up."

Andrew De Jesus agrees. "People who don't vote have no reason to complain," he says. "If you don't vote you did nothing to change it so you really have no right to complain."

Megan Cunningham adds: "There are issues that need to be worked out and you need to go vote."

The Citizen Student series continues next month, when Morning Edition will carry a report on what grade school students learn about freedom. January's segment will examine the debate over how to teach the "real history" of America. February's report will look at whether volunteerism is supplanting voting as a civic duty among young people.

In Depth

audio icon Listen to a Weekend Edition report on why Americans aren't excited about elections. Nov. 2, 2002.

moreFollow NPR's 2002 election coverage.

Other Resources

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement

The Vanishing Voter Project at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government

Rock the Vote

The National Student/Parent Mock Election

Kids Voting offers a Constitution test.

Student Voices