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Registry of draft prospects slipping

Mandatory registration for the national Selective Service System went down last year, despite the surge in patriotism after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Federal law requires young men between the ages of 18 and 26 to register with the Selective Service, a registry of young men eligible for a military draft if one were needed. Approximately 13.5 million young men are required to register, according to the agency.

Yet the number of men nationwide complying with the law slipped by 1 percent last year, from 87 percent of eligible males in 2000 to 86 percent. That means the service's list of available men has shrunk by 135,000 from 2000 and is 1.89 million individuals short of its goal.

The system's annual state-by-state analysis shows that more than 10 percent of eligible Ohio and Michigan residents aren't complying.

Ohio and Michigan fall in the middle of the states, with 88 percent and 87 percent of young males registering, respectively. Both states had a 2 percent decrease in compliance between 2000 and 2001.

A 1 or 2 percent decrease may not seem like much, but for some, it raises questions: Are Americans less patriotic now? Do they have qualms about registering for the service in times of war? Or are they simply unaware of the law?

Most likely, it's the last, said Alyce Burton, a system spokeswoman. She said states with bigger cities are less likely to see high compliance rates because of their immigrant and high school dropout populations.

“We did have an upsurge in compliance in the days and weeks following Sept. 11,” Mrs. Burton said. “We don't feel the lack of registering has anything to do with patriotism. We feel it is a lack of knowledge.”

However, a recent GOP survey of college students about their feelings on the war on terrorism and the Middle East showed that the fear of a draft exists. The study concluded that 37 percent of college students want to try to evade the draft and another 21 percent would only want to serve if they are stationed in the United States.

Only 35 percent said they would be willing to participate in the draft and serve anywhere in the world.

Failure to register for Selective Service is a felony. The penalty for a conviction is up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

But it's highly unlikely that those who fail to register will be prosecuted, Mrs. Burton said. “We want men to obey the law, but right now, as far as prosecution, the last man prosecuted for failing to register was in 1983.”

“We're in the registration business, not the prosecution business,” added George Willard, the Selective Service's Ohio director.

David Currie, a 19-year-old Toledo resident who attends Stautzenberger College, said he believes young men fail to register because they simply don't know they must.

“I've always known about it. My dad was in the service with the Coast Guard,” said Mr. Currie, a Whitmer High School graduate. He has been registered with the Selective Service since he was 18 because, he said, “I had to.”

Mr. Curriesuggested compliance rates could be increased with more informational posters hanging on high school walls and more public announcements to students in the mornings.

Mrs. Burton said states with lower urban and immigrant populations, such as Delaware and Utah - where compliance rates are 99 and 98 percent, respectively - generally have higher registration rates than states known for their bigger cities and immigrants, such as California, which had 81 percent compliance.

Delaware and Utah also may have higher compliance rates because they are among states with laws that automatically register young men with drivers' licenses when they turn 18.

A change in Ohio law approved earlier this year could substantially improve the state's numbers in the next few years. Effective Aug. 1, Ohio will begin providing to Selective Service registration information for males under 26 years of age who are seeking the issuance or renewal of their state driver's license.

“We feel that with the new law, we'll probably come as close to 100 percent as we possibly can,” Mr. Willard said.

Ohio and some other states require students going to universities in their states to pay out-of-state tuition or deny them financial aid unless they register.

Mrs. Burton said Michigan doesn't have any such laws.

Judging by what she has seen since Sept. 11, Marian Darr, the auxiliary secretary for American Legion Joseph W. Diehn Post 468 in Sylvania, said she does not believe the lowered registration percentages have anything to do with patriotism.

“I really think there is as much patriotism right now as there was right after September 11,” said Mrs. Darr, 67. “Being in the legion, I think I'm a little more aware of it, but you still see people with flags flying.”

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