PORTLAND (AP) – Top state election officials Sunday agreed to sponsor a youth voter education summit in the nation’s capital next winter, pushing a program aimed at stimulating political participation by a lagging segment of the American electorate.

The National Association of Secretaries of State also prepared to release a survey of its own, in cooperation with the Youth Vote Coalition, that highlights state efforts to counter young voter apathy.

The survey, scheduled to be formally unveiled this week as the secretaries’ organization wraps up its summer meeting, found that nearly three-quarters of the states conduct youth outreach programs of some kind.

Arizona is one among a number of states that sends birthday cards to residents turning 18, encouraging them to vote. New Hampshire has conducted “Youth Democracy” essay competitions. Voter registration drives in Kansas target state fairs. Maine holds mock elections and offers citizenship awards.

Many states also join in partnerships with outside groups, including National Student/Parent Mock Elections, Kids Voting USA and Rock the Vote.

But, according to the secretaries’ organization, only about one-third of 18-to-24-year-olds turned out to vote in 2000.

“This alarmingly low turnout record – part of a 25-year trend of decline – gives many state election officials cause for alarm,” wrote Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, the incoming president of the secretaries’ organization, and Veronica De La Garza, executive director of the Youth Vote Coalition.

“When those numbers are coupled with the fact that most high school students have never set foot inside of a polling place, the future of American democracy seems pretty bleak,” Kiffmeyer and De La Garza wrote in summarizing the new survey’s findings.

The secretaries’ organization, whose current president is Maine Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky, issued a New Millenium Report in 1998 that suggested traditional motivational strategies appeared to be inadequate when it came to younger voters.

The New Millenium program now focuses on state best practices as part of information sharing.

The summit planned for February, said project director Kay Albowicz, will invite leading academic researchers to address youth voter topics. The timing, she noted, would coincide with the peak of presidential primary season.

More immediately, Gwadosky said state officials are closely tracking steps to implement the new federal election reform bill, the Help America Vote Act.

Other issues on the secretaries’ agenda included electronic government services, campaign finance and homeland security activities in the states.


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