By Jethro Swain
To me, it’s weird that fourteen year old freshman Oliver U., who doesn’t even have a phone, is making a decision on whether or not America should support a law which would require universal background checks for all gun purchases in the U.S.
I just want to pinch his little cheeks, but he’s too busy contemplating the foreign trade policies of Trump and Clinton.
OES participated yet again in the VOTES program this year, which stands for Voting Opportunities for Teens in Every State. During activity and lunch last Wednesday, students voted on seven issues, presented by GPC students two weeks prior, on topics ranging from fracking to gun control, as well as on which of the four candidates he or she would vote for as President.
The goal was to get 100% of the student body to vote, so that the results presented the most accurate representation, however only about two-thirds of each grade voted. “Two-thirds is more than the U.S. election percentage, so our school is representing a vote better than the country is,” said Bryan C. During the 2012 election, only 53.6% of American voted (pewresearch.org). Two-thirds doesn’t seem like a large turnout, especially compared to our student body elections, where closer to 85 or 90% of students vote, but it represents the school slightly better than the U.S. voters represent the United States.
But how truthful were the votes? In real voting booths the stakes are much higher because the vote counts towards the future of the country, so most voters wouldn’t vote one way or the other as a joke. Furthermore, students might be afraid to vote the way the truly believe. “Some people might (vote against their beliefs), especially because people had to write their name in it, especially in a high school where people aren’t as well informed as adult voters, they might just go and vote with their friends,” said Meg H.
In the VOTES program where there are no real stakes besides seeing what the student body thinks, are kids really taking it seriously?
Now, what I’m not trying to do is bag on the VOTES program, what I’m trying to do is actually the opposite. I believe that the VOTES program is necessary to try and help kids be educated and thoughtful in voting, which is why students need to take it seriously in order for it to have any effect.
Because, after all, roughly one third of my grade can actually vote this year. If the new generation of kids are growing up with little to no education on political issues, which could be the case with so many sources of media and entertainment, then the elections could turn more and more into a popularity contest.
“Living in Portland it doesn’t seem like my vote for a candidate will really matter, but it felt good to send in an official ballot and vote for other issues within the state,” said senior Lexy T. who recently cast her official ballot.
As far as our mock election results, it goes as, what should be, no surprise that Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine won with 80% of the vote. Multnomah County is “the third most blue county in the entire United States, just behind San Francisco and some place in Conn-ect-icut,” said the wise Mike Gwaltney in GPC class the other day. In fact, five out of the seven issues came in with results of 70% or more in favor of one side, with 96% of us believing that there should be universal background checks on gun purchases.
So what do these results mean? Well, OES Upper Schoolers agree with the highly liberal views of the county it’s located in; wild. But that’s not the question you should be asking. Why is the VOTES program important? It’s important because kids need to learn how to vote. They need to learn how to make independent, educated decisions that will impact their futures, and I believe that the need for programs like VOTES is even more essential with the rising generations of kids who grew up on technology.
So I challenge students to make sure they take voting seriously, both in real life and in programs like mock elections, because they’re essentially practice for the real thing. Every upper schooler will have graduated by the time the next VOTES program comes to OES, but still, my point remains.
And to wrap it up, in the words of Lucas S., “if the people vote, the people will get what they want. Regardless, it seems like we have a long road ahead of us.”