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Young Morgantown voters taking it seriously

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Youthful civic enthusiasm in Morgantown. Youthful civic enthusiasm in Morgantown.

The middle of election day brought thoughtful younger voters out to the Wiles Hill Community Building polling place in Morgantown.

It was Wayne Dorsey's first presidential election. A 21-year-old Jefferson County native and West Virginia University student, he was two months shy of voting age when the 2008 election took place.

Dorsey voted straight Democrat at the top of the ticket — Barack Obama for president, Joe Manchin for Senate and Earl Ray Tomblin for governor — but split his votes further down.

"I saw some Republican candidates that appealed to me," he said.

He found the campaign season interesting and felt the debates held his attention more than in past years, and he didn't think that was only because he was eligible to vote this time. He said a lot of people he's talked with expressed that same feeling.

Of the Obama administration's accomplishments, Dorsey noted the end of the war in Iraq.

And for the coming four years, if Obama wins, he said he doesn't see the deficit likely to come down as fast as Obama might like, but he hopes Obama can prove detractors wrong about the significance of his presidency.

Twenty-four-year-old WVU graduate student Mariana Matthews also voted Democrat at the top but split her vote for other offices.

A New Orleans native who has lived in Morgantown most of her life, Matthews made a last-moment decision to vote for Obama.

"He went in with an unfair disadvantage — the war, the policies that were already in place," she said. "He couldn't change all that in four years. I think he's doing a great job, and I'd rather have him than someone he hasn't really come out with a plan."

As a single mom who has made it without help, Matthews' major disagreement is with Obama's pro-choice stance.

Manchin, she said, had big shoes to fill — those of the late Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd — and she wanted to give him another chance.

And she said she's come to realize that personal like or dislike isn't always a good reason to vote for or against a candidate, and that she voted for Tomblin for governor because she thinks he stands a better chance than Republican challenger Bill Maloney of getting things done.

A master's student in public administration, she said that, although she always thought of herself as a Democrat, like her parents, she has come to realize that both parties have good ideas. It's important for people not only to vote, she said, but to do research and understand what policies they're voting for.

She hopes for a stronger focus on education in the coming four years, as the best means for getting people out of poverty and strengthening the nation. She feels that when people get used to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — "Obamacare" — they'll see that it's a good system, and also hopes to see jobs kept in the U.S. rather than sent overseas.

Even Brianna Brennen, a 27-year-old Morgantown native who describes herself as "a strong Democrat," did not vote a straight ticket.

Like the others who spoke with The State Journal, she voted for Obama, Manchin and Tomblin, but veered from the party in other areas.

Brennen is excited to see Obamacare carried out and feels confident that, if Obama is re-elected, that and other policies that matter to her will come about.

"As a social liberal, I think my hopes for the country will be better served under Obama, she said.

She doesn't support everything Manchin and Tomblin stand for — "they're a little conservative for me" — but said she believes in voting for the "lesser evil" sometimes.

She was a little disappointed in the campaign season and felt the debates were more jargon than substance.

Although none of these 20-somethings mentioned climate change as among the issues they hope will be addressed in the coming four years, two of the three expressed concern when asked directly about it.

Dorsey said he feels "uninformed" about it, while Matthews said she feels hurricanes Katrina and Sandy are only the beginning signs of it and Brennen said it's another issue that stands a much better chance of being addressed under Obama.