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SOU freshmen use comedy to encourage peers to vote

Southern Oregon University freshman Michael Peterson donned a woman's pinstripe suit and painted his eyelids with blue shadow to encourage his classmates to vote.

It was at a Monday dress rehearsal, and Peterson was impersonating Sen. Hillary Clinton in a "Saturday Night Live" &

style skit as part of a class project designed to entertain young voters while educating them about issues important to their generation.

"Our skit is obviously comedy, but hopefully these younger voters pay attention to the more serious things," said Peterson, who explained that his peers may not have as much passion or understanding about elections because they are new to the political landscape. "The jokes are there to get their attention."

In the skit entitled "Who is My Candidate?" first-time voter Brittany Seigendall asks the three presidential candidates questions in "The Dating Game" fashion, and the audience learns from the wise-cracking candidates and show hosts about major issues affecting young voters such as education, the environment, poverty and health care.

Clinton, as portrayed by Peterson, for example, is introduced as a self-described prayer warrior who loves the color yellow, pantsuits and spending time with her dog, but she gets serious when it comes to gas prices.

When Seigendall asks the candidates to describe the United States in one word, Barack Obama, played by Shala Helm, chooses "change," and every answer thereafter is littered with the word.

"First I will change the way change is implemented in an ever-changing, change-filled White House," he says when asked what his first action as president will be.

The final question, on why the first-time voter should elect them, results in a heated argument between Clinton and Obama requiring separation by the "secret service."

The skits and accompanying voter pamphlet, YouTube videos and Web site are the culmination of the year-long freshman class "Ethical Thinking for the 21st Century," taught by Carol Voisin, who ran against Rep. Greg Walden for his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2006 general election.

"In addition to learning about all the issues myself, I learned more about the actual election process," said Stefan Hutchison, who plays Bill Clinton in the skit. "And Carol brings an amazing experience having run for office."

Although the students said many of their classmates are interested in the upcoming election, their presentation is designed to drive home the importance of voting, they said.

The YouTube videos they produced explain that while approximately 11 million young people voted in the 2004 election &

about 47 percent of the 18-24 age group &

there might be a different president in office today if turnout for that liberal-leaning group was just 12 percent, or — million votes, higher. George W. Bush won the election by a slim — million vote margin, according to their presentation.

Professor Sandra Coyner, who observed the dress rehearsal on Monday to offer feedback, said she thought the project would help engage young voters in a process that typically ignores them.

"I think it's actually going to bridge the generation gap," she said. "We often criticize young people for not being more politically engaged, but we also should examine the political process to see how it could change to appeal more to young people."

The students will give their final presentation Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the University Seminar Symposium in Room 330 of the Stevenson Union.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .