‘Virgin Voters’ to be motivated to go to the polls

Noah Gray

Noah Gray, a 2010 Silver Knight winner from Palmetto High, is continuing his work to encourage first time voters to go to the voting booth. He’s also a CNN special youth political correspondent.

Gray started the Virgin Voting Project for the 2008 elections, two years before he was eligible to vote. Now 20 and a college sophomore, he is targeting first time voters in high school.

With friend Ralph Haro, also a Palmetto High graduate, Gray is putting together a 22- state bus tour with 25 to 30 stops, depending on how much funding he is able to raise. Gray kicked off the fundraising phase of the project at Books and Books last week.

“We’re planning to launch in Miami on Sept. 10,”he says.

The plan calls for visits to Ft. Lauderdale and Tampa on the way out of Florida, and then on the way back to Miami at the end of the tour they will stop in Orlando, Gainesville and Tallahassee. How much funding they raise will determine the number of stops.

“I think it’s a very interesting project, with an interesting approach,” Gray says. “It’s different because it’s being put on by young people for young people.”

The bus tour also hopes to register the teen voters even in Florida, where one of the most stringent so-called voter suppression laws has been passed. Gray says they are looking at working with Turbovote, an organization that tries to make registrations as easy as renting a DVD on Netflix.

“It gets around all those registration laws,” Gray says, adding that the Virgin Voter effort goes beyond just registration. “We’re going to motive them. We’re using positive peer pressure. We’re trying to use voting to help create a better generation of young people. I think the problem is that nobody is marketing to us. We are going to make up one-third of the electorate soon.”

The Virgin Voting Project is a non-partisan, non-profit organization.

“We feel it is important that people vote, no matter who they are voting for,” Gray says. “We’re going to high schools in areas with the lowest voter turnout among young people and the largest school districts in the country.”

Gray has some experience in motivating students. He organized a big rally for Special Olympics while still at Palmetto. He says it was very interactive, music and video heavy, and used inclusive video.

“I want to use that type of format and use some celebrities,” he says. It won’t be boring, not typical high school assemblies. We’ll try and relate to the virgin voters in the crowd.” Gray says they’ll make the argument why young people should be involved and why they need to care.

“In speaking to a lot of young people — I go out with my camera all the time — we’re all concerned about jobs and the economy and health care, and unless you show them how these issues affect them… ” He says. “We’ll be using the issues to connect them rather than using the candidates to connect them.”

Gray and Haro will either take time off from college – Gray is at American University and Haro at Harvard – or it will be an independent study project for them.

Gray is majoring in broadcast journalism and political science.

“I’m going to try and do this as an independent student and take online classes,” he says. “I’m hoping I’ll be able to figure it out. A few professors have expressed interest.”

For more information, go to www.thevirginvotingproject.org.

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