Eighteen-year-old Hannah Zimmerman said she feels today's presidential election is historic. Not only is a high voter turnout expected, but it's the first race to see a black candidate for president in a major political party. It's only the second election in which a female candidate has run for vice president.
Although there is speculation that Sen. Barack Obama's candidacy - given his appeal to young and minority voters - could bring an unusually large number of first-time voters to the polls this year, the proportion of registered voters nationwide who say they will be voting for the first time is no higher than it was in 2004, according to last week's pre-election poll of 2,700 registered voters.
Still, Lodi's Britney Gire is nervous about voting for the first time, as many other young people may feel.
"I have an effect on the country," she said. "That's scary."
She believes it's historic because under a new president the country is going to take "a major turn," she added.
Gire, 18, admitted she's not a big fan of either candidate, but sides with Sen. John McCain because he's pro-life.
It's no secret who Zimmerman is voting for today, considering until last month she worked for McCain's campaign making phone calls to potential voters.
"I really like his pro-life stance," she said. "He has a lot of knowledge in overseas relations and the military."
Not just voting, volunteering too
For Tokay High senior Amy Gill, McCain's war stance is the reason she would vote for Obama, if she could.
"He's the best candidate for our country," said the 17-year-old who wore an official Obama camp T-shirt to school Monday. She actually ordered it two months ago, but it just arrived last week.
Tokay High senior Sunjum Hundal has been working at the new Young Democrats office in Stockton. Although she isn't old enough to vote in this election, she has been getting others to pledge their support for Obama.
On Monday, she was wearing a T-shirt with a caricature of Obama resembling Superman except the letter under the shirt he was ripping off was an "O."
If she could vote today, Hundal would cast a ballot in favor of Obama because she feels for the first time people don't have to pick between "the lesser of two evils," she said. "People are actually wanting him in office."
Joe Johnson, one of four teachers at Tokay High that teaches American government, said 62 of that school's seniors have been trained and assigned to work polling precincts in the area.
"Although they get paid $130 for a full day's work, what they learn about government, politics and community service is invaluable," he said.
Senior Hasan Ghadialy plans to clock more than 12 hours, starting at 6 this morning. He signed up because he wanted to see the voting experience firsthand.
Youth pollIn a poll of 260,000 California students, a majority favored Barack Obama as the next president of the United States, according to the 2008 MyVote California Student Mock Election organized by Secretary of State Debra Bowen.
They also support bond measures for veterans, children's hospitals and energy, while opposing a ban on same-sex marriage and a requirement for a parent to be notified before a minor can terminate her pregnancy. Here are the results from 614 schools across the state, including three from the Lodi Unified School District.
Barack Obama/Joe Biden (D)
John McCain/Sarah Palin (R)
48.78 percent yes
51.22 percent no
69.53 percent yes
30.47 percent no
72.91 percent yes
27.09 percent no
46.75 percent yes
53.25 percent no
53.02 percent yes
46.98 percent no
49.90 percent yes
50.10 percent no
69.34 percent yes
30.66 percent no
43.48 percent yes
56.52 percent no
57.54 percent yes
42.46 percent no
63.85 percent yes
36.15 percent no
46.10 percent yes
53.90 percent no
63.70 percent yes
36.30 percent no
Source: California Secretary of State
"I wanted to be part of the process and know what I was getting into next year when I'm 18," he said.
On Monday, student government students at Tokay were preparing for a mock election today. Polls will be set up at lunchtime, allowing students to cast mock ballots on the same day the rest of the nation is voting.
"Even though this is not real, it gives them a taste of how the voting process works and a chance to participate in the political dialogue the adults are having," Johnson said. He added the school's mock election results often mimic those of the real election.
According to an informal survey by Lodi High School's Flame newspaper last month, a surprising number of seniors at Lodi High who are old enough to vote, plan to do so, and a slight majority will be voting for Obama.
School newspaper editor Zimmerman and fellow staffer Josh Gums found that 20 percent of seniors will be eligible to vote, with 12 percent saying they planned to. Of those, according to the survey, 45 percent favored Obama, 44 McCain and 11 percent, a third-party candidate.
Betsy Hammer has cast ballots in recent years, but never for president because she was only 17 in 2004. The University of Pacific political science major favors Obama because, she said, his positions on many issues are the closest to hers, especially compared to McCain.
"I like his tax plan, but I wish he was a bit more liberal (for lack of a better word) on environmental issues, but it's hard to find many politicians who are against offshore drilling," she added of Obama.
Interest in state races too
Lodi High senior Kyle Suess, 18, thinks this is one of the biggest elections ever and he's excited to be part of it because, he said, the presidential candidates are polar opposites. He sees many of the state's propositions on the ballot as important and isn't shy in voicing how he'll vote.
"Yes on 8, not because I dislike gay people … I just think when we voted and it was overridden by three judges, they shouldn't be able to do that."
Hammer, on the other hand, doesn't like the way this state votes on ballot propositions because, among other things, she said it's not a good way to change the constitution.
"I also don't like the way voters can budget through the ballot box. It's led to many problems that make it much harder for elected representatives to do their jobs effectively. So I vote no on all the propositions as a meaningless form of protest," she said, adding that among her peers most seem to be against Proposition 4 and 8.
Ghadialy's parents, on the other hand, are voting for Obama, he said, adding that he would, too, if he was old enough because the candidate would pull the nation out of its current economic slump.
Gire said her preference of McCain over Obama isn't popular with her peers and suspects most of those her age and living outside of Lodi will vote for the latter.
"Obama is young and good looking … and people want change."
And that's exactly why Gill would vote for him if she was old enough to be a registered voter.
"I like that he wants to implement more change," she said.
Hammer, one of Pacific's Democratic Party leaders, feels Obama has really energized young people in a new way.
"He's refined his policies, and while I don't agree with all of them, I can get on board with most, and the way he's inspired people to get involved in politics and care about the direction our country takes means a lot to me."
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.