Friday, April 29, 2016

League of Women Voters Benicia register more than 500 student voters

(Originally published in the 4/28/16 edition)

   To say that the 2016 general election is inescapable is an understatement. Even before Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex) became the first to officially announce his candidacy in March of 2015, the media had been fervently speculating who would become the next president, which was only inflamed by several others throwing their hats into the ring over the next year. Now, the race has dwindled down to five as of this writing: Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and Republicans Cruz, John Kasich and Donald Trump.
What is perhaps even more exciting than this race is the fact that for many high school seniors, this is their first time voting. But it doesn't stop there: Solano County 18-year-olds will also be electing senators, congressmen, state senators, assemblymen, district supervisors, mayors and voting on ballot measures. To make sure students were prepared to vote in an informed way, League of Voters Benicia was there to help.
In March and April, the local chapter of the national nonpartisan organization aimed at encouraging civic engagement, visited more than 30 social science classes in high schools in Benicia, Vallejo and Fairfield, as well as Solano Community College. The campuses visited were Benicia High School and Liberty High School in Benicia, St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School and Jesse Bethel High School in Vallejo, and Fairfield High School, Sem Yeto High School and Matt Garcia Career and College Academy in Fairfield. 
Members of the Voter Services Team- including Susan Neuhaus, Harvey Rifkin, Peggy Lipper, Carin Coleridge, Gayle Vaughan, Eliza Wingate and Alvina Sheeley- delivered a Power Point presentation on the importance of voting, the offices up for election and the ballots on the June 7 primary. The presentations did not encourage students to vote for any particular candidate as the League of Women Voters is nonpartisan, but they did highlight how essential voting is. 
“We had a slide that said 'Denial and ignorance are the enemies of democracy' and had a picture of an ostrich with his head in the sand,” Vaughan said. 
They also showed a graph of the 2012 election in which the youth voter turnout was only 41.2 percent and encouraged them to beat that number. After the presentation, registration forms were given out, and more than 500 students ended up signing up to vote.
The presentations were also informative to the teachers as well. LWV had discussed California's semi-open primaries, in which those who registered under “No Party Preference” could request a Democratic, Libertarian or American Independent ballot, but not Republican, Green or Peace and Freedom Party ballots. 
“A couple of the teachers, once we said that, said ‘Oh, I think I need to change my registration,’ so some of them changed their registration so they could vote for the candidate they wanted,” Vaughan said. “The kids were very careful about that, and they asked a lot of questions.”
Since California requires two weeks of civic instruction on the voting processes in U.S. government and economics classes prior to the primary and general elections, Vaughan said the level of prior knowledge students had varied from class to class.
“Some classes had really gone over it and informed students how the process worked, while others had just gone over the government process,” she said.
The 2016 election is unique in that new voters will be affecting all three branches of government. They will not only be electing a new president but also a new California senator, as Barbara Boxer will be retiring after 24 years, which Vaughan noted is longer than this new crop of voters has been born. Additionally, who they elect as president could determine the next Supreme Court justice.
At the local level, Benicians will be voting for a mayor, Councilmembers, district supervisors and more.
“Not often do you get all levels of government in one election,” Vaughan said.
Vaughan said this election is exciting for 18-year-olds not only because it will be their first time voting but also because they have the power to really make a difference.
“This one is important because many things can be changed right now,” she said. “If you’re interested in making change, now’s the time to do it.”
Those looking to register to vote can pick up forms at the post office, library and City Hall. You can also register online by going

1 comment: