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'It's our chance': Even without a ballot, local high schoolers engage in elections

Students leave East Chapel Hill High School on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022.

With midterm elections right around the corner, many North Carolina high school students are encouraging their peers to show up to the polls.

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), a nonpartisan research organization, found that 50 percent of individuals between the ages of 18 and 29 voted in the 2020 presidential election. The organization said this was likely one of the highest rates of youth electoral participation since the voting age was lowered to 18.

Elise Edmondson, a junior at Millbrook Magnet High School in Raleigh, said voting is one of the few ways young people get to influence what happens in the country, so it is important to not take it for granted. 

“We have to grow up watching all these decisions get made that we don't really get a say in,” Edmondson said. “I feel like once you're able to vote, it's so important because you've seen the way different things impact people. Now it's our chance to finally do something about it.”

Though she is not eligible to vote in this election, Edmondson said she plans to vote in 2024.

Langley Maciejewski and Ananya Cox, the co-presidents of East Chapel Hill High School’s Democrats Club, said people under 18 can still make a difference even if they aren’t eligible to vote in the upcoming election.

Cox and Maciejewski said they have been working in civic engagement throughout their teenage years. They specifically noted the experience of trying to make a difference while being stuck at home and feeling helpless due to their age. 

This motivated them to help give other students the opportunity to make an impact through work with the Democrats Club.

Those under 18 also have options to participate in the election process , including volunteering for political campaigns, attending campaign events and working the polls on Election Day. 

Young people can also research candidates and share information on topics they care about with family and friends who are eligible to vote.

Maciejewski said this election is all the more important because of the volatile climate of the country. 

“The scene of politics is more polar than it has been, probably ever,” Cox said. “I know that politics does cause a divide even among families and just communities, but at the end of the day, it's not about blue or red. It's not about Democratic or Republican policies or ideas.”

Colin Doyle, a senior at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh, said the divisiveness of politics has deterred him from registering to vote.

“I feel like the reason that I don't really want to pay attention to stuff like that is because when I think politics, it's just negative,” Doyle said. “It's so divisive, so I don't really want to involve myself with it.”

According to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center, 15 percent of Americans said they find voting difficult, and 10 percent of those individuals mentioned a divisive political environment as a reason.

“The main thing that would help would be just making politics less just rude and insulting, and actually have actual information instead of just slandering other people,” Doyle said.

Though Doyle said he does not feel he has adequate knowledge on political topics, he said young people that are knowledgeable on issues should go out and vote.

“Young people should go out and vote if they have the knowledge, but I also feel like a lot of them don't have the knowledge,” Doyle said. “Anyone who has the knowledge and is capable of making that decision should make that decision to vote.”

According to a 2020 CIRCLE study, people who were taught about voting in high school are more likely to vote when they are eligible. 

Only 12 percent of individuals who were encouraged to vote in high school said voting is a waste of time, while 26 percent of respondents who did not receive encouragement think voting is a waste of time.

Cox said there are many resources for young people to access and learn more about different political issues. She recommended the North Carolina State Board of Elections website for factual information on candidates.

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She also said keeping up with different news outlets is a helpful way to learn more about candidates. 

“No matter how small the seat may be in the House or how local a candidate is or how low stakes it may seem with a lower voting population,” Maciejewski said. “It really makes a difference if you go out and vote.”


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