For some area students, voting for the first time in a presidential election carries a sense of excitement - and responsibility.
"It's scary, because I've done a lot of stuff in high school, but this is really the biggest thing I've ever had to do," said Jessica Coulter, a Waterford High School senior who will turn 18 before the Nov. 6 election. "You can change the country. If you vote for one person and they do something right and it benefits the whole country, you made the right choice."
Young voters were a strength for President Barack Obama in the 2008 election, and members of both parties are making efforts to court the youth vote in 2012. The latest Associated Press poll shows Obama leading Republican challenger Mitt Romney 54 percent to 38 percent among voters younger than 35.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Frontier High School government and American history teacher Keith Robinson, center, speaks to his citizenship class Tuesday about the upcoming presidential election.
That puts Fort Frye High School senior Travis Miller in the minority.
"My views, I believe, are somewhat more similar to (Romney's) than Obama's," he said.
Miller said he tries to stay updated on what both candidates have to say, mainly via the Internet. He said he's looking forward to voting because it's one of the only ways citizens have to make their voice heard.
"I'm pretty excited to actually have a say," he said.
Several other students contacted Tuesday said they're still making up their minds.
Waterford High School senior Kyle Miller, 17, no relation to Travis, said he plans to do more research before making his selection. It's a choice he doesn't take lightly.
"You've got to think about things," he said. "You can't just go, 'Oh, I'm going to vote for him because everybody else likes him.'"
Coulter said she plans to research issues and watch some of the upcoming presidential debates, which kick off next month, to help her decide. She said she's one of only four students in one class who will be eligible to vote in the presidential election, but the race is a topic of interest even among those who won't be casting a ballot.
"Everybody's looking at you, asking who you're going to vote for, what are you going to do, what party are you, and it's just a lot," Coulter said.
Fellow Waterford senior Alan Brooker isn't quite ready to commit his vote either.
"I'm pretty sure I know but not entirely sure yet," he said.
Brooker said one of the most important factors in his decision is whether he'll have a job after he finishes college.
"I'd like to go into green architecture, so I'd like to see some more initiatives on green technology," he said.
Waterford senior Carrie Simms said she often discusses election-related issues with her family, but feels her decisions on the ballot will be her own.
"I talk to my parents about what's going on and get their thoughts, and then I compare them to my thoughts," she said.
Kyle Miller said he's always thought of voting as a rite of passage, like getting a driver's license when you turn 16.
"We just happen to be turning 18 the year of the" presidential election, he said.
Frontier High School senior Daniel Matheney said he'll probably vote in the upcoming election but isn't sure. Being eligible to vote isn't "that big of a change because my family doesn't talk about it," he said.
Matheney said he is learning more about the election because it's a frequent topic of discussion in Keith Robinson's citizenship class. He expects to get most of his information from the Internet and television news.
If he does vote, he said it would be for "someone who's honest and would stand behind what they're going to do," Matheney said.
Citizenship classmate Danielle Watkins won't turn 18 until after Election Day, but that hasn't stopped her from following the race.
"I just get really into it," she said.
Watkins said both candidates have different views which makes the race more interesting. Still, she doesn't think it would be an easy decision.
"They're going to say things to get people to vote for them ... which makes it hard for people to know which one would be best," she said.
Robinson, who teaches government and American history at Frontier, said students' interest in the race seems to be more reactionary at this point.
"Overall they're interested, but it's moreso when they hear something in the news or they hear someone talking about it, they come to class with questions," he said, noting recent convention speeches by actor Clint Eastwood and former President Bill Clinton seemed to get their attention.
The lengthy run-up to the election has rendered it something akin to background chatter for many students, but Robinson expects he'll see more interest as the election approaches.
Washington County Board of Elections director Peggy Byers said her office has registered about 350 18-year-olds to vote in the last six months. That number does not include 17-year-olds who will be 18 by Election Day. The office also has a program called Youth at the Booth, which offers seven students from the seven high schools in Washington County a chance to work in polling places on Nov. 6.
"The idea of the program is to get them into the process, and hopefully they'll stay in the process," Byers said.