MTV, Political Parties Mount Essay Contest

If you're a young voter with a way with words, the Democrats and Republicans want you for their national conventions.

The two parties joined cable's MTV (search) on Monday in announcing separate essay contests to choose two people to speak at the Democratic convention in Boston in July and the Republican gathering in New York in August.

The Republican National Convention (search) contest, called "Stand Up and Holla!," invites voters ages 18-24 to submit a short essay that answers the question, "Why is the president's call for community service important and how have you demonstrated it?"

The Democratic contest asks its applicants to describe why politics is important to the younger generation.

Selection committees will narrow the field to 10 finalists for each party, with the winners voted on through the conventions' Web sites and MTV's site. The Republican winner will speak at the GOP gathering, which begins Aug. 30; the Democratic winner will appear at the party's convention, which gets under way July 26.

"The politicians and the parties are recognizing that young people are a viable, massive voting bloc and could swing the election one way or another this year," said MTV spokesman Jaime Uzeta.

Recent trends, however, show low turnout among young voters. Just 29 percent of eligible voters ages 18-24 -- about 8.4 million -- went to the polls for the 2000 presidential election, compared to 55 percent of all eligible voters.

The essay contests are part of MTV's 12-year-old "Choose or Lose" (search) campaign, which aims to get 20 million people ages 18-30 to the polls this November.

"We wanted to dispel the myth of youth apathy," Uzeta said.