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Opening the Door to Adulthood: Seniors Vote for the First Time by Karina Aronson

Photos by Lynsie Corfield

From now until Nov. 3, young voters will cast their ballots for the very first time. Many will check boxes on absentee ballots, while others will wait in lines at polling stations. In such a high-stakes election, youth voter turnout can have a large impact on this election.

History teacher Jaime Fields said that last year, Pinewood worked with the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters to get 23 students registered, although only a tiny number of Pinewood seniors will be old enough to vote in November. Senior Micaela Rodriguez Stuebe is one of those students. She has already cast her vote, and said the Pinewood voter registration drive was a positive experience.

“The process was super easy and ended up being super helpful because I didn’t have to do anything between pre-registration and getting my ballot,” Rodriguez Stuebe said.

While the majority of people pay more attention to the presidential election, focusing on local measures, propositions, and candidates is just as important.

Rodriguez Stuebe said she used a voting guide to help her decide.

“There were some propositions and candidates for the Palo Alto school and college districts that I had to look into a bit more. My ballot came with a voting guide which was really helpful. It outlined arguments for and against each proposition as well as included statements from each candidate,” Rodriguez Stuebe said.

In addition to the voting guide, Fields recommends reading articles by unbiased news sources such as KQED and the League of Women Voters. The League of Women Voters website has informational blog posts, as well as links to sites such as vote411.org, which provides unedited candidate responses to League of Women Voters questions. It also has a location feature, so a user would only see the candidates on their ballot.

Especially for local measures, Fields urges voters to think about why someone wants the measure or policy passed.

“It’s very expensive to get a ballot measure on the ballot. You have to look and see who’s funding it, who’s behind the ballot measure, because that’ll give you a little insight into why they want it passed,” Fields said.

On top of research, Fields runs mock elections in her government and AP government classes to teach seniors more about the process of political campaigns, thus giving the students a glimpse behind the curtains of political races.

“We’re running candidates. We have media and we have lobbyists. We do debates, and [the students] make posters. We’ll also look at the current candidates and their platforms. From there, we build our own platforms. So we parody what’s going on, and learn about it at the same time,” Fields said.

Rodriguez Stuebe, who is participating in the mock election as a lobbyist, says that the class elections have provided helpful insights into real-world elections.

“I’m seeing how overfunded and overpowered interest groups have an unfair influence on the government. [Lobbyists get politicians] to say or do things that benefit that organization but may not represent the candidate’s idea of the public good,” Rodriguez Stuebe said.

At the beginning of October, Californians started to receive their absentee ballots. While the majority of seniors cannot vote this year, the ones who could were enthusiastic to do so. Despite all that, Rodriguez Steube was a bit intimidated by the ballot at first.

“Everything seemed so official, and it made me doubt my ability to cast an educated vote. I hadn’t even heard of some of the people and propositions on the ballot. However, as I did a little reading on each of them, it began to feel really empowering,” Rodriguez Stuebe said.

Fields agreed with the feelings of empowerment gained from voting. She said that voting for the first time felt like opening the door to adulthood.

Fields urges anybody who can vote to go out to the polls or fill out an absentee ballot, imploring students not to take the right to vote for granted.

“There's been so many groups of people throughout our country's history who couldn't vote and deeply desired to vote. So, you owe it to all of those people who came before you, who fought for our right to vote,” Fields said.