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NHPrimary.com: Non-voters will stay in the shadows

By Julian Safer/The Telegraph of Nashua, New Hampshire

February 1, 2000
Web posted at: 12:44 p.m. EST (1744 GMT)

NHPrimary.com

NASHUA, New Hampshire (The Telegraph of Nasuha) -- Newspapers, television and the Internet are filled with speculation about who voters will support in today's first-in-the-nation primary.

But Nashua resident Crystal Slater doesn't plan to go to the polls. Neither does Eric Schutt.

In fact, thousands in New Hampshire won't participate - and many of them won't vote in the general election in November, either.

Despite the efforts of politicians who have crisscrossed the state, voter education groups and intensive election coverage in the media, many local voters say they feel alienated from the political process.

They say that in a process in which candidates receive millions of dollars from corporations and political action committees, they don't think their vote makes a difference. They say they don't trust politicians to keep their promises, so why bother.

These attitudes span all ages, ethnic groups and economic groups, but non-voters are particularly prevalent among the young, poor and minorities, studies show.

"I don't actually pay attention to any of the elections," says Crystal Slater, 23, who works at the Rent-a-Center in Nashua.

The major problem, she says, is that she doesn't trust what the candidates are saying in interviews.

"I think when they're there on TV, sometimes they're putting on a front," she says.

What's more, becoming informed about the candidates is too difficult and time-consuming, Slater says.

"You have to pay attention to them all for too long," she says.

Her manager and co-workers harass her about her non-voting ways, saying that if she doesn't vote, she doesn't have the right to complain about the state of things.

Slater says she agrees - "and I don't complain."

Schutt, 23, who works nearby at Video Thunder, says he doesn't vote in presidential elections because he doesn't like or trust the candidates. "I don't believe any of them," he says.

Schutt says he became disillusioned while serving in the Navy in the Middle East last year where he was firing missiles at unknown targets for unknown purposes.

"What was the big point of being there?" he asks.

To him, the major presidential candidates seem all too eager to send people like him overseas or to take his money through taxes. The candidates he would support don't have a chance.

"If I don't like who's coming to office, why should I vote for them?" he says. "It's like this bully and this bully are up for class president - they both beat me up. Should I vote for them?"

Four years ago, 49 percent of the nation's eligible voters - less than one in two - participated in the November general election, according to figures compiled by the Federal Election Commission. Nationally, that figure has dropped steadily since 63 percent voted in the 1960 election.

In New Hampshire, 57 percent of eligible voters turned out for the general election in November 1996.

Elections are dominated by affluent, white Americans, says political science professor Nancy Snow of New England College in Henniker. Not surprisingly, she says, these are also the people who are most often addressed by politicians.

Because others are ignored, they don't vote, Snow says, and because they don't vote, they are continually ignored. Younger Americans have some of the worst turnout history, but Snow says it's not because they are not interested in what's going on in their communities.

"Youth are more involved than ever in their community," says Snow, whose students volunteer in women's shelters, nursing homes and other sites.

But she says while such work is often instantly and visibly rewarding, voting and getting involved with the political world doesn't work the same way.

"When it comes to politics, you don't get that immediate effect," Snow says.

"Especially with young people, they want an immediate return on their investment."

Some of those interviewed expressed a sense of futility and fatalism.

Working in the cold on East Hollis Street, 35-year-old utility repairman Dave Sanderson of Merrimack says he never even bothered to register when he moved from Massachusetts three years ago.

"They're all a bunch of liars anyway, so it doesn't matter," he says.

Michael Rodriquez, 27, finishing up his laundry at Plaza Laundry and Cleaners, says he has never voted because it wouldn't make a difference. Politicians don't listen to people like him, he says.

"What's going to be the difference who's in the presidency?" he asks. "They make their own rules anyway."

Minority voters are also underrepresented at the polls, according to studies. Nashua home school coordinator Anna Signorello, who was helping a client translate her child's school evaluation forms into Spanish, says Latinos frequently feel ignored by politicians.

"When it comes to voting, nobody really cares to address them or even get them an interpreter," she says.

Signorello says that when she lived in New York, politicians would always go to Harlem during election time.

"Then you'd never see them again," she says.

Snow says race and ethnic issues are topics many candidates avoid as a sort of political third rail, but particularly in New Hampshire, where commentators and analysts often talk about how the state is overwhelmingly white.

"It's a sort of a dismissive quality. There's just this tendency to view New Hampshire-ites as all the same," she says.

The poor are also underaddressed and on top of that have problems accessing information, Show says.

While the Internet has hundreds of political Web sites that make it easier than ever to follow a campaign and get information on the candidates, Snow says: "If you're a lower income group, you're very likely not to be online."

Even if they follow the debate, Snow says the politicians are largely talking about the best ways to continue an economic boom that hasn't extended to all levels of society, and many of the programs are tailored to appeal to the upper classes.

Snow says there are some people who don't want people who they feel are uneducated and uninformed participating in the process anyway.

"This country is still very much an elite democracy," she says.

For some people, non-voting becomes a form of protest to a system they feel ignores them. Snow says this is really counterproductive and suggests if people feel ignored by politicians, they show up at the polls in force.

"Go out there and show up in droves, and they'll be forced to listen to you," she says. "If you don't show up, you'll never be a voting bloc that will even show up on the candidates' radar."

ELECTION 2000
Bush, Bradley win early vote in Dixville Notch (2-01-00)

One day before the New Hampshire primary, candidates seek to sway voters (1-31-00)

GOP candidates on final swing through New Hampshire before Tuesday's primary (1-31-00)

Democratic rivals focus on voters for Tuesday's New Hampshire primary (1-31-00)

Final tracking poll shows McCain, Gore with solid leads (1-31-00)

NHPrimary.com: Record turnout forecast for New Hampshire primary (1-31-00)

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