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TV producer launches drive to draw young voters

WASHINGTON -- The man who brought Archie Bunker into America's living rooms launched a major campaign yesterday, with the help of some Hollywood celebrities, to get young people into the voting booth.

Television producer Norman Lear said the campaign, called Declare Yourself, will use entertainment, education, and the Internet to inspire Americans ages 18 to 29 to register and vote. Despite his liberal reputation, Lear said the voter drive is nonpartisan.

"If you get a youngster to vote at 18, the chances are much greater that that individual will be a lifetime voter," Lear said. "So there will be every effort to make turning 18 a rite of passage."

Joined at a news conference in Washington by actress Drew Barrymore, a spokeswoman for the project, Lear said the effort has raised $27 million in private and corporate donations.

The effort will include television promotions, an 18-city college campus tour with a rare copy of the Declaration of Independence, and a nationally televised concert next fall. The campaign produced a short film about voting narrated by actors Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn that will be shown to millions of high school seniors.

Other actors who will participate include Cameron Diaz, Ed Norton, Michael Douglas, and Kevin Spacey, Lear said.

The group launched a website, www.DeclareYourself.com, where people can download registration forms for all 50 states, request absentee ballots, find polling places, and learn about the candidates.

Lear, 81, said Declare Yourself is the culmination of his three-year, traveling tribute to the Declaration of Independence. In 2000, Lear and his wife, Lyn, bought a rare copy of the document for $8.14 million and brought it on a tour of 50 cities to try to inspire more people to vote.

Among young adults, apathy toward the political process has grown, evident in the diminishing number of young voters who have turned up at the polls in the past three decades. In 2000, 29 percent of eligible voters ages 18 to 24 turned out. In November 1968, slightly more than 45 percent of Americans ages 21 to 24 voted.

Lear is best known for comedies in the 1970s like "All in the Family," "Sanford and Son," "Maude," and "The Jeffersons," which discussed issues such as racial prejudice, abortion, and homosexuality. Lear, a political activist for more than three decades, founded People for the American Way in 1981, a liberal advocacy group that claims 600,000 members.

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