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New voters looking forward to casting their first ballots

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WILLMAR -- Presidential debates mean more now, and they're talking about politics with their parents and their friends.

A group of 18-year-old seniors at Willmar Senior High are looking forward to their first chance to vote Tuesday. Several seniors from Willmar talked about the milestone in their lives last week when they visited the high school's counseling office.

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"I think voting actually makes me feel like an adult finally," said Tayva Vollan, whose birthday was in August. Before this, she said, she didn't feel like much had changed when she turned 18.

Other students nodded. Turning 16 is a major event, because it leads to getting a driver's license, said Alex Grove, who turned 18 in July. "When you turn 18, there's really nothing new until you can vote."

It's particularly exciting because it's a presidential election, said Rosie Molenaar, with a June birthday.

All three are ready to vote and will be registering at the polls on Election Day.

Emily Schecht is already registered. She went online and printed out her voter registration form.

"It's very exciting," she said, and her parents are excited about her voting, too.

Lauren Sing, with a July birthday, is also registered. She and her mom did it online.

The students watched all or most of the presidential and vice presidential debates this year. They said it helped them reach their decisions.

Schecht said she watched how the candidates acted toward each other, and that made her decision pretty easy. "I'm fine if the other one wins," she said. "I don't make it into a personal thing."

Molenaar watched the debates "as a future college student, worried about college prices and the job market when I get out of college."

Vollan said she learned that taxes are different for different groups of people. "I found that really interesting," she said.

While they liked watching the debates, the new voters were not as impressed with campaign advertising.

"They just rail on each other," Vollan said, and the others nodded.

Sing said her advice to the candidates would be to "own yourself; don't try to make yourself look better by bashing someone else."

They've all tried to learn as much as they can about the candidates and don't think people should vote without doing that.

Vollan's dad went over the sample ballot with her, so she'd know what to expect when she votes. Sing did the same thing with her grandmother. "She wants me not to be overwhelmed," she said.

None of the students have been told by their parents how they should vote. "Some parents are like that," Sing said.

Some of them said they believe they will be voting the same way their parents will, but they've made their own choices.

"In my house, they say, 'These are the facts, and you make up your mind.'" Molenaar said.

Grove said the family has discussed the presidential campaign, but he's not sure how his parents are voting or even if they will vote for the same candidates. He's made his own decision, he said, partly from what he heard in the debates.

They are all looking forward to sporting their "I Voted" stickers on Election Day, too.

"To even get to vote, I think it's a big privilege," Schecht said. "I'm going to wear my sticker to school."

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Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340
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