At 16, Calif. Students Say They're Ready To Vote They are well-informed and ready to vote. But they are too young to cast a ballot tomorrow. A group of 16-year-old high school students from Pasadena, Calif., explains why they are excited about the elections, even though they can't make their voices heard officially.

At 16, Calif. Students Say They're Ready To Vote

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. What if you can't vote?

Ms. JAYTONA WILLIAMS: It's kind of like, ugh!

BRAND: What if you're following all this political news, you have well-formed opinions, the next president will affect your future directly, and you can't cast a ballot?

Ms. WILLIAMS: You get kind of jealous because you want to get out there.

Ms. POOJA SHAH: It's frustrating when we can't decide for ourselves, and we have to let the adults decide for us.

Ms. HEIDI RAYERS: It sucks that I can't vote because, I mean, I want my voice heard, as does everybody else.

BRAND: These 16-year-olds, juniors at Blair High School in Pasadena, are frustrated they can't make their voices heard officially. And so, unofficially, we're going to hear what they have to say, and they have a lot to say. You just heard Jaytona Williams (ph), Pooja Shah, and Heidi Rayers (ph). We'll hear from more of their classmates. First, their history teacher, Alfredo Mathew.

Mr. ALFREDO MATHEW (History Teacher, Blair International Baccalaureate School, Pasadena, California): One of the most wonderful things about being a U.S. history teacher is, every four years, we get an election.

What are some of the states that are in play in this election? Where are John McCain and Barack Obama spending a lot of their time this last week?

Unidentified students: Ohio.

Mr. MATHEW: An election years are just so much fun to teach in because there's automatic engagement, and there's automatic relevance to everything that we're doing.

(Soundbite of students speaking)

BRAND: Pooja Shah is handing out ballots at lunchtime with the same choices we adults will face tomorrow. These students here and at high schools across California are voting for the next president in a mock election. Let's go inside and talk with some of the students in Mr. Mathew's class, seven of them. In addition to the girls you already met, Pooja, Heidi, and Jaytona, there's Will Hunter, Demali James (ph), Collin Curford (ph), and Katia English (ph). Here are their top issues in this election.

Ms. SHAH: The economic crisis and the war in Iraq.

Ms. RAYERS: The economic crisis and American foreign policy.

Mr. WILL HUNTER: Also the economic crisis and the war.

Ms. DEMALI JAMES: Healthcare and education.

Ms. KATIA ENGLISH: The economic crisis and immigration.

Mr. COLLIN CURFORD: I would say the economic crisis and social issues like abortion and gay marriage.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Education and the financial crises.

BRAND: Almost all of them said the financial crisis because it affects them directly. Their school, Blair, is a public high school. It was almost shut down a few years ago because of academic problems. Now, it's trying to reinvent itself. These are not rich kids, and most of them are not white.

Mr. HUNTER: My family has already lost a little bit of money as far as the college fund goes.

Ms. SHAH: As a kid, you think so high, and you want to reach so far, but it's depressing to turn on the TV and the news. The first thing in the news is the economy. The Dow takes another drop.

Ms. RAYERS: I definitely have thought about what it means after college. What it means when - depending on who wins this election and what they do, what the job market's going to look like.

Mr. CURFORD: I've always paid a lot of attention to my grades, but I've gotten almost kind of compulsive because scholarships are going to be very competitive.

Mr. HUNTER: I'm really going to be considering, how much money do we have to spend? Is that going down? So, I'm not going to be looking at top colleges.

Ms. JAMES: It's hard to be so ambitious, and in a shrinking economy and job market, that just means so many less opportunities.

BRAND: Do you all feel that way?

Students: Yes.

BRAND: And so they've been discussing the candidates' tax proposals. Really, tax proposals.

Mr. CURFORD: Barack Obama's may be a little bit too liberal for me.

Ms. SHAH: That's why I'm kind of split.

Ms. JAMES: I do. I agree with Barack Obama.

Mr. CURFORD: When I hear the phrase spreading the wealth, it makes me think of more comprehensive social welfare programs. I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing.

Ms. JAMES: As they've been saying, spread the wealth, I agree with that, but I don't know a great deal of taxes.

BRAND: OK. By now, you may be thinking, these students are really well informed. How did that happen? Aren't they all supposed to be zoned out on video games and YouTube and not really bothering with an election they can't vote in anyway? Well, that's also been a head scratcher for their teacher, Alfredo Mathew.

Mr. MATHEW: It's amazing to me that they have such formulated opinions, but what's also amazing is that they're flexible. They're not dogmatic. They definitely support one candidate over another, but they're able to understand that there's nuances, and that there's validity in other points of view. And that's a complexity, a sophistication that I know I didn't have when I was 16 years old, but I feel that they possess it.

BRAND: So, where does it come from? Well, ironically, it may be YouTube, blogs, the Internet, new media.

Mr. MATHEW: There is so much more accessible to them.

(Soundbite of students speaking)

BRAND: This campaign has lasted a long, long time, almost two years. And I'm wondering if you could sketch out for me where you were two years ago and what you were thinking about the candidates versus now and when you kind of had your political revelation?

Ms. SHAH: Two years ago, I would have considered myself ignorant.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SHAH: I mean, I didn't know anything. I knew who was running. I could tell you the Republican candidates and the Democratic candidates, but I think, at the time, I was a lot different than I am now. I was actually very into the Republican side, and my dad is fairly conservative. He's probably going to go out and vote for John McCain. We try to avoid politics. It gets into a fairly evil bloodbath.

Mr. HUNTER: I've been following this election, basically, since the June of ninth grade, when Obama and Hillary and Edwards, at that point, still were kind of dooking it out. And Obama was still kind of this upstart.

Ms. RAYERS: I guess two years ago, I wasn't so interested at the very beginning about the issues that were being addressed and things that they were saying. I eventually got really, really involved, and now, politics is like every day.

BRAND: That last student is Heidi Rayers, the only McCain supporter in the group, maybe in Mr. Mathew's entire class. After our interview, Heidi and the others went outside to vote. The next time, it'll be for real.

(Soundbite of students voting)

BRAND: And Alex, you can guess pretty much who won that election, that mock election?

CHADWICK: Senator Obama.

BRAND: Senator Obama, 73 percent state-wide. And you heard their teacher marveling at how well-informed these kids are. He said the best-informed kids are the ones who are talking about this election at home with their parents.

And parents, if you need some help talking about these issues, there are some pointers put together by a group called The Constitutional Rights Foundation. They also help teachers. It's a non-partisan group. They have some tips, and those tips are at our blog, npr.org/daydreaming.

CHADWICK: You know, this is going to sound like ancient history, but we, when I was in high school, were just fascinated by political developments because President Kennedy was assassinated while I was in high school. That rocketed everybody into that - the kind of drama of the moment. Although that next election, President Johnson versus then Senator Goldwater, nobody paid much attention to that back then.

BRAND: Nobody did in your high school?

CHADWICK: No, it just...

BRAND: Even though there was a war going on at the time?

CHADWICK: Well, that was kind of building, and it turned out many people in that high school class would wind up then later on finding out how important it is to pay attention to public policy. But then, at that moment, it was all about what had happened to this great leader, President Kennedy. What about - who was running when you were in high school?

BRAND: Well, no one was really running, but we were just at the beginnings of the Reagan revolution. This is in the early '80s. It seems like so long ago, the Reagan revolution.

CHADWICK: Yeah, so what about you, listeners? What about when you were in high school? Did you pay attention to politics, and what campaigns were going on? And what did you learn from them? What do you remember from your first political campaign when you started to think about voting?

BRAND: Yeah, you can go to our blog and weigh-in. Once again that address, npr.org/daydreaming.

CHADWICK: So, doesn't it really feel like the whole country's just been holding its breath for the last three weeks?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Especially here in the media. We're about to let go. What will we talk about?

CHADWICK: Well, this debate about how big this election is? You know, my favorite grand old political writer, David Broder, had a piece in the Washington Post over the weekend saying that this is the best election he has ever seen.

BRAND: But, Alex, Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard, he says no, nothing special. You know, I say it does feel different, and you just look at the intense interest abroad. We reported earlier in the show about an unprecedented number of foreign journalists here to cover it.

CHADWICK: Yeah, so Wednesday, the day after the election, we're going to co-host the program again from the Magic Johnson Starbucks. It's a Starbucks coffee shop in a mostly African-American neighborhood not far from our studio here. We were there a few days ago, and we heard this.

Unidentified Man: For a black president in America, of course, it's unprecedented, and I think, when something like that could happen in America, it shows the greatness and the possibility of America. Of course it makes me feel good, and I can tell my son, in this lifetime, if you run - grow up, you can be president of the United States.

BRAND: And, Alex, you'll be back at that Starbucks to get African-American reaction no matter what the results are tomorrow.

CHADWICK: Exactly, exactly. That'll be Wednesday on Day to Day. Meanwhile, today's show continues in a moment.

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