Students from Mammoth Spring High School were among the participants in a voting workshop conducted recently at the state Capitol by Arkansas Secretary of State Charlie Daniels.
Four students and sponsor Lindy Greene were among the 300 students participating in Young Voter's Week activities.
The secretary of state is conducting the program in conjunction with the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), which has designated March as National Young Voter's Month (NYVM). The effort is an outreach project of the NASS New Millennium Young Voter's Project, which seeks to engage eligible teen-agers and 20-somethings in the electoral process.
The daily sessions provide students a hands-on look at the voting process with programs that include the history of American suffrage, a review of voter registration information and a look at the lawmaking process. The day's events also include a discussion of current issues, a capitol tour and visits with constitutional officers.
Secretary of state staff members explain the steps involved in the voting process, including voter registration sites, rules on absentee and early voting, and the opportunity to serve as student poll workers.
The presentation on American suffrage covered the laws and constitutional amendments that impacted citizens who were previously denied the right to vote. Key figures in Arkansas' suffrage movement were also featured.
A mock election, featuring a 1790s-style ballot and ballot box, helped illustrate the history of American suffrage. Students were randomly assigned a symbolic age, sex, race, ethnic origin and level of income to show how certain groups have been excluded from voting. The exercise helped drive home the point that the right to vote is a hard-won, precious freedom that now allows each eligible student to register and vote after their 18th birthday.
Daniels and Land Commissioner Mark Wilcox also visited with students about their respective duties. State Treasurer Gus Wingfield also addressed students.
"Voting is one of our most basic rights as Americans," said Daniels. "But turnout among young voters has declined dramatically in the last 20 years. We must give our students an appreciation for the privilege of voting, of how citizens have fought for the right to vote, and how important it is for them to make their voices heard at the polls."
A survey conducted by NASS found that only 20 percent of the nation's 20-year-old registered voters are voting on Election Day. By contrast, 80 percent of the nation's 80-year-old registrants cast their ballots. In Arkansas, just under 7 percent of the voters in the 2000 Presidential Election were ages 18 to 25.
For more information about voting in Arkansas, contact the secretary of state's office at 1-800-482-1127 or visit the Web site www.sos.ar.gov.