Don’t Wait until You’re Eighteen

Claire Mendelson, Editor-in-Chief

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“Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote,” Samuel Adams once said, “that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable.” Voting is a citizen’s voice in the democratic process, and it gives people an opportunity to have a say in important issues.

Students at the Governor’s School for Government and International Studies understand this well. As the name of our school suggests, the student body is very actively engaged with politics, current events, and global issues. The Young Democrats and Young Republicans both provide ways for students to become more involved in politics, and a recently launched club, the Purple Politics, serves to foster a discussion of political issues outside of partisan lines. A diversity in opinion presents the opportunity for political discourse, and many conversations both in and out of the classroom involve an animated dialogue about the current issues facing our nation and our world.

As the Virginia primary approaches, political discussions among the student body are at an all-time high. Many of the students eligible to vote will cast a ballot on Tuesday, recognizing the importance of voting and taking their part in choosing our nation’s next president. But despite widespread participation in the political process at the national and state levels, students demonstrate alarming voting apathy in the elections that have the most direct impact — school elections.

In 2014, only 40% of the freshman class voted for their class officers. The turnout for the other three classes hovered around 70%, which was also the same percentage of the student body who voted for SCA officers. The opposite trend occurs in Honor Society elections, where freshmen tend to average the highest level of participation with around 65% of the class voting. At the end of sophomore year, when the class elects their junior representatives, 60% turnout is typical. However, by the time a class votes on its senior members, only around half of the class participates in the election. Recent outcry against Maggie Walker’s honor system sparked many complaints, especially from the senior class — yet only 50% of them were actually involved in electing representatives to the Honor Council.

Class elections give students a crucial voice in their school community, and having a say in selecting SCA and class officers presents students with the opportunity to meaningfully be involved. Similarly, the value of a student-run Honor Council is only as strong as the students make it, in part by actively voting. It is certainly ironic that at a school for government and international studies, where political involvement and discussion is the norm, so many people choose not to vote in school elections. From the foundation of our country, voting has been one of the most important tenets of the democratic process, and it is  just as important at the school level. It is a citizen’s civic duty to vote in national, state, and local elections, and it is a student’s civic duty to vote in school elections.

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