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Tuesday June 6th

Local high school students volunteer for national nonprofit to educate voters

<p>A MyVote volunteer in Pennsylvania explains the organization and connects the voter to their website to learn more about the candidates. Photo courtesy of Amelia Solum.</p>
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A MyVote volunteer in Pennsylvania explains the organization and connects the voter to their website to learn more about the candidates. Photo courtesy of Amelia Solum.

High schoolers in Chapel Hill and Carrboro empowered North Carolinians to vote through the MyVote Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that provides policy platforms of candidates ranging from national to local elections.

Sari Kaufman, a first-year at Yale University and survivor of the Parkland shooting in 2018, co-founded MyVote with Duke University professor David McAdams and political strategist Gita Stulberg. They aimed to increase voter participation and education by creating a “one-stop-shop” platform with nonpartisan information on various candidates. 

The project was launched in August 2020 and has spread from states like California and Virginia to North Carolina. 

“A common theme was that people didn’t know who they were voting for,” Kaufman said. “And we kept saying we needed to hold these politicians accountable, but we can’t really hold politicians accountable when we don’t know who we’re voting for.” 

Kaufman said MyVote enlisted over 300 student volunteers, most of whom are high school-aged, from across the country to research candidates and their policies. Amelia Solum, a senior at Chapel Hill High School and the national director of MyVote's on-the-ground campaign, said the movement attracted more than 10 Chapel Hill student volunteers during the early weeks of the state-mandated quarantine. 

“We had all these students willing to connect virtually, and being able to organize in this time was great,” Kaufman said. “Unfortunately, it’s a little harder to create relationships with all of our volunteers, but we have Zooms every other week and then we have our big volunteer calls about once a month so that’s where we’re able to connect with our volunteers.” 

Solum first got involved with MyVote after seeing a few of her fellow students post about it on social media. She said after signing up, she was quickly connected with the leadership team.

“For the first four or five months, I was doing candidate research, which meant every two weeks or so, I was sent a list of 20 or 25 political candidates all the way from local board of elections to state senators, state house of representatives,” Solum said.

She said MyVote has covered the policies of all candidates from North Carolina, Florida and Pennsylvania. 

Many student volunteers are not of age to vote. 

Elizabeth de Figueiredo, the North Carolina state lead for MyVote, is 17 years old and spends hours promoting voting and voter education.

“Not being able to vote made me want to do more and find a way to participate because I couldn't vote,” de Figueiredo said. “I saw that in a lot of our volunteers.” 

She said it’s more than just getting people who can’t vote yet excited about voting. It’s about the learning process that comes with researching candidates and policies so young people can learn about the importance of local and state elections — not just the presidential election.

“I think it’s really cool to see people who aren’t even old enough to care about if other people voted,” Kaufman said. “I think it makes our volunteers stronger; since they can’t vote, they see it as such a value that they can’t wait for.” 

Solum said many MyVote volunteers worked at local polling sites, encouraging research on the candidates prior to voting. 

“The most impactful thing was seeing how our work was impacting people, when we actually got to go out and go to the polls and to see them use MyVote and see them interested in the candidates they were voting for and learning new things about them that they didn't know before they even were going to vote,” de Figueiredo said. 

Although the 2020 election season is technically over, this doesn't mean MyVote is finished. Kaufman said she hopes to expand MyVote to include more college students from state universities and historically Black colleges and universities to cultivate a diverse organization that reaches and educates more people. 

“If we don’t have people voting and we don’t have people knowing who they’re going to vote for, our democracy could collapse,” Kaufman said.

Those interesting in volunteering can sign up here


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