Alexander Heffner ’08 Discusses Involvement of Youth in The Political Process and Flaws in Election System

As November approaches and voters prepare to go to the polls, Alexander Heffner ’08, a freelance journalist, urged Andover students to recognize the power of their vote in a lecture titled “Young Americans and the 2012 Election” on September 27.

Heffner, the founder of “SCOOP08” and “SCOOP44,” the first online national student newspapers covering the 2008 election and the Obama administration, respectively, encouraged students to become informed and use their knowledge to generate their own opinions about the election.

“If you’re investing in your future [and] your family’s future, you have to vote. It’s a condition in our DNA,” he said.

Youth interest in presidential elections peaked during President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. “Obamamania” became widespread, especially on college campuses, according to Heffner. Obama earned 66 percent of the youth vote, while Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee, received only 30 percent.

“Obama kicks some butt when it comes to young people and his victory [in that demographic],” said Heffner.

In election demographics, youth voters are defined as citizens between 18 and 29 years old.

Recently, Heffner contributed to SCOOP2012, a blog for young voters interested in the 2012 primary campaign.

Heffner said that there is less youth interest in the upcoming presidential election, compared to the 2008 election.

However, Heffner predicted that the social media coverage of the election and future availability of online voter registration will ultimately increase youth participation in politics.

“SCOOP08 was a great example of the role technology now plays in turning out the youth vote,” said Tyler Olkowski ’13, President of Phillips Academy Democrats Club.

Heffner also discussed issues regarding recently passed voter identification laws. Voting now requires photo identification in 14 states. This could eliminate almost 700,000 minority votes because some voters cannot afford proper photo identification, according to Heffner.

The new voter identification laws can also inhibit youth voters. For example, in Tennessee, student IDs are no longer an acceptable form of voter identification, according to Heffner.

“The aim [of voter ID laws], according to Republicans, is to prevent voter fraud. But [studies by New York University] and other nonpartisan schools have very clearly demonstrated that fraud is a minuscule problem,” said Heffner. “It’s like shooting a fly with a bazooka.”

“[Certain voter ID laws] challenge the very moral fiber of our democratic structure,” he added.

Heffner also discussed how the personality of candidates can often influence election results more than their stances on policy.

He cited the 1992 presidential campaign of former President Bill Clinton, which Clinton tailored specifically to appeal to youth. During his campaign, Clinton appeared on late night shows and famously played the saxophone on “The Arsenio Hall Show,” before getting elected President of the United States, according to Heffner.

“[Heffner’s presentation was] eye-opening… I found it especially empowering as a student,” said Gabbi Fisher ’13. “I think presentations like [Heffner’s] encourage youths to be enthusiastic about getting out to vote and becoming part of the political process.”

Heffner’s writing has appeared in “The New York Times,” “The Washington Post” and “The Wall Street Journal,” among other publications. He has been interviewed by BBC America, CBS, CNN, FOX and PBS.

He also has hosted “The Political Arena with Alexander Heffner,” a weekly radio broadcast on public affairs, and co-authored “A Documentary History of the United States,” an anthology of American historical documents, speeches and letters. The text is currently used in History 300 classes taught by Matthew Hession, Instructor in History and Social Science.