Voting is easy!: A step-by-step guide for teens

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I’ve been waiting for this moment my entire life. My parents and I have had serious discussions about the choices I will make. My friends have told me to be careful. I’m a little nervous, but I think I’m ready. Ready to vote.

I know that most young people aren’t terribly interested in politics and voting. When I mention something silly Joe Biden has done, my friends ask if that’s my cat. But there’s a reason we need to vote. An old friend of mine (and I mean old. She must be 100) told me the reason politicians do so much more for the elderly than for young people is because the elderly vote. If you piss them off, you’ll lose an election. If you piss off the nation’s 18-24 year olds they’ll probably be too busy looking at pictures of cats on the Internet to notice.

Politics are imperfect, but they’re important. The old lady I mentioned earlier told me politics is a game. You can either give it your best shot or sit at home and let other people decide what you get. Then she asked me to play her favorite cassette tape.

But teens, hear me. Voting is easy. You do it for American Idol, Dancing With the Stars, maybe even America’s Got Talent if you have no life. Voting for public officials isn’t that different if you just imagine Obama as a mournful country singer in a fedora and Romney as a child acrobat. Are you ready?

All kidding aside, you can do it. I’ve already registered and it was a breeze. All you have to do is go to www.mnvotes.org, click on the button that says “Register to Vote,” then click the link that says “Voter Registration Application.” You do have to print it out on actual paper and mail it in a real envelope, but your parents, teachers or another trusted adult can help you if the going gets tough. I, for one, had fun with it. I pretended I was from olden times and filled out the application with a fountain pen.

If you don’t get around to registering ahead of time, you can register on Election Day. Just show up at the right polling place (www.mnvotes.org will get you there) and bring some identification with your name and current address. Even a utility or cable bill will work.

Redistricting has changed the voting map

Because of the 2010 census the lines that determine Congressional and legislative districts have been redrawn. The candidates representing you now may not be running in your district this year, so it is a good idea to double check.

Every 10 years, the state uses information from the census to re-draw district lines to ensure everyone in Minnesota is equally represented. This is called redistricting. Basically, the lines on electoral maps are set so that each Congressional district and each legislative district has roughly the same number of people. The 2012 election is the first time voters will experience the effects of the redistricting caused by the results of the 2010 census.

Redistricting has the potential to confuse first-time voters, since the people representing their district now might not be on the ballot this year. To find out who is running for each office, just go to http://bit.ly/b2AYL2, find your districts and look into the name of the candidates listed.

Deciding who to vote for

After you register, though, things get a little trickier. You actually have to decide for whom to vote. For some of us that’s easy. Maybe you’re one of the special few who have been raised to be politically aware, listen to Public Radio and watch every single presidential debate. But for all you normal people out there, a little help might be welcome.

Unless you’re impressively unaware, you know there is a Presidential election this year. What many people don’t know is that there are lots of other races being run. Congressmen, Senators, and many, many more. (If you call now we’ll add a city councilman to your order for no extra cost!)

After you register to vote you’ll want to find out which districts you’re in so you know who’s competing for your vote. You will have a Congressional district, a state senate district and a state house district. There are a few more, but if you’re interested in the soil and water district you have a serious problem.

To find your district you can always turn to the trusty Internet. For those of you unfamiliar with Google, I’ll even provide the web address. To find your districts and who represents you in the Minnesota Legislature and U.S. Congress, just to go http://www.gis.leg.mn/OpenLayers/districts/ and type in your address. This magical website will spit out a list of all your representatives.

For example (Please don’t use this information to track me down and ask me why I do these things. I really don’t know.) my Congressional District is 05, represented by Keith Ellison. My Senate District is 44, represented by Ron Latz, and my House district is 44A, represented by Steve Simon. All of Minnesota is represented by two U.S. Senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.

Next, unless you love all your incumbents with a fiery passion, it would be good to find out who is running against all of your representatives. To do this, you can go to this webpage on the Minnesota Secretary of State website, http://candidates.sos.state.mn.us/ then scroll through to find your districts. There are links to information about each candidate that can help you decide who to vote for. (Your Congressional District will be labeled U.S. Representative and your house district will be labeled State Representative. There’s also basic information and links to websites for candidates running for city councils, school boards and yes, soil and water districts.

Now that you have the information you need to find out about the candidates you’re on your own since I would probably get fired if I told you who to vote for. Good luck and watch out for hanging chads!