The ballot gives young people a voice | Updated

Audrey Cole

Audrey Cole

Greg Wheeler won the election for Bremerton mayor. This version has been corrected to indicate that, as well when a North Kitsap High School student registered to vote for the first time.

Karsten Hald, freshman at University of Washington and alumnus of West Sound Academy, spent a good portion of last year’s cross-country season joking and debating about politics with his friends.

This year, he received his first Kitsap County General Election ballot.

Checking the little boxes felt strange to him, especially considering the importance of the results. The process felt “good, though a little confusing.”

Karsten feels that “some but not many” of his peers voted in the Nov. 7 election because “people don’t realize that they are significant.” Karsten believes that “democracy won’t be able to serve its purpose and it will reflect skewed results” if not enough people vote. Determined not to be part of the rising political apathy, Karsten cast his vote.

Why would young Americans turn down their constitutional right to choose the leaders and laws of their communities and country? The right to vote was a hard-won one. At first, voting was a right guaranteed only to white men of property over the age of 21. Over the years, barriers to voting were stripped away by the 15th, 19th, and 26th amendments, until we reached the point where all American citizens over the age of 18 possess the right to vote.

Despite this long struggle, many citizens decline to vote because they don’t think their individual votes matter in the enormity of the voting pool. Individual voters do matter, though, especially in local elections. In the 2017 Bremerton mayoral election, Greg Wheeler won by a mere 13.28 percent of the vote — only 748 individual ballots. To put this in perspective, Bremerton has a population of 40,675. There have been elections even closer than this, decided by fewer than 10 votes.

This lack of participation means youth are disproportionately represented. According to the United States Elections Project, fewer than 45 percent of individuals age 18 to 29 participated in the 2016 presidential election, as opposed to the more than 70 percent participation of voters over age 60.

Let us hear from some of the youth who have chosen to make their voices heard at the ballot box.

Tim, senior at North Kitsap High School, barely turned 18 in time for this year’s General Election. To register to vote, he set out on an hour round-trip to Port Orchard, home of the Kitsap County Auditor’s Office. He then read articles about the candidates — why they were running for office, their experience, and “their political ideological position.” This momentous experience ended with Tim’s father dropping off his and Tim’s ballots in the ballot box near the fire station.

Why did Tim go to such lengths to vote in his first possible election? “I am a citizen with the ability to choose how my daily life is run by other people. Why should I not vote? These elections determine who is running the local government and how the economy functions with citizens daily lives, including mine.” As a contributing American adult, Tim relishes his chance to help shape his nation.

Niki, research intern at Poulsbo’s SEA Discovery Center and student at Western Washington University, had her first experience with voting in the 2016 presidential election.

“When I was younger, I wanted nothing to do with [politics],” she said. She said many young people feel helpless, that “more often than not it feels that all of our voting won’t stop things like tax increases and laws that take away our freedoms … It’s feelings like these that make our generation shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Why even bother?’ I personally don’t feel this way because it’s hard to not get involved emotionally with some of the issues going around, and being in such a progressive state as Washington I know a lot of young people who feel the same.”

As we collected data for the SEA Discovery Center on Dec. 3, she shared some of her recent experiences participating in political activism, which has always been her main method of political participation. Niki participates in democracy because she cares about a lot of the issues at stake.

In the halls of my own high school, I see a politically polarized youth. No, this isn’t a divide regarding political issues, but regarding politics itself. A sizable percentage of high schoolers seem indifferent to politics. I have participated in rather loud political discussions with the passionate minority. Come the fast approaching age of 18, both these groups will be given the opportunity to vote. Those who choose to register and participate will each have their own reasons and journeys, but ultimately, they will all participate in the shared experience of showing what the majority of Americans want to do with their community, state, and country.

Thank you to all the youth who voted. I can’t wait until I can.

— Audrey Cole is a student at North Kitsap High School, a periodic columnist for the North Kitsap Herald, and a blogger at www.worldreligionweekly.com.

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