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Happy Birthday! Ready to Vote?

The votes aren't in yet, but early indications are that sending new voters birthday cards might get them to the polls.

Since September 1997, the city clerk's office in Los Gatos, Calif., has been mailing people cards on their 18th birthdays that are accompanied by voter registration information.

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On the front, the card says: "For your 18th birthday, we thought of giving you the world." Inside it reads: "Instead, we thought it was more important to give you the right to vote."

Tucked in the envelope is a voter registration form, a prepaid return envelope, and a pamphlet prepared by the League of Women Voters. The card is signed by the city clerk's office, the Los Gatos Community Foundation, and the student's high school.

"It's always a problem to get young people who turn 18 to think about registering to vote," says senior deputy city clerk MarLyn Rasmussen. "They think about getting a car, going to college, starting a job, and looking at boys and girls. Voting is not one of their priorities."

So Ms. Rasmussen tried the birthday celebration-voter registration idea after hearing how another city clerk's office in California had tried something similar.

The Los Gatos Community Foundation gave the clerk's office $500 to cover the project's printing costs, and the clerk's office found out who in the community was about to turn 18 from the Los Gatos High School. "This is government, community, and school working together," says Rasmussen.

So far, more than 125 Los Gatos residents have received the packets. And "through parents, teachers, and the high school principal, we hear that the kids are surprised and think it's great," Rasmussen says.

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