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Teens Shake Up the Oregon Political Landscape

October 31, 2008

Eagle Point, OR – If Oregon teenagers could vote, the "change" politicians are touting in their speeches and ads would soon be a reality. More than 50,000 Oregon teens from 300 schools voted in a national mock election this week.

Democrat Barack Obama would be president if they had their say, by an overall margin of 67 percent to Republican John McCain's 28 percent. They also decided Jeff Merkley should replace Gordon Smith as an Oregon senator. The vote is a culmination of six weeks of democracy and civics lessons, in which the students have been studying national and state candidates' campaigns, as well as some of Oregon's many ballot measures.

Mike Curtis teaches Social Studies at Eagle Point High School, where the presidential race was almost too close to call.

"We recounted all the ballots, and Obama actually widened his lead from one, to either six or seven. So, I had to explain the rules, y'know, on close elections and recounts, and that kind of thing."

Curtis' high school government classes participate every election year. This time, he says, the students were keenly focused on looking beyond the smear tactics to find the truth.

"We were looking into a lot of the dirty campaigns and the half-truths, things like that. So, my kids were aware of that, and even willing to kind-of confront some of the kids, when they were hearing those half-truths."

Oregon teens also voted on several of the state ballot measures – they liked Measure 57, the idea of drug treatment programs as part of prison sentences; but they decisively defeated Measure 58, which would limit bilingual education to no more than two years in Oregon schools.

Curtis says the students were also encouraged to discuss their assignments - and their newfound interest in politics - with their parents. The full results of the national teen balloting are online at www.nationalmockelection.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR