Seniors Get Out to Vote

by Julian Mosley '21, Clay Waller '21, and Katie Patrick '21

Turning eighteen in America is not only a huge milestone marking the first step into adulthood, but it brings about a sense of freedom with the newly granted ability to vote. According to the United States Election Project, though, young voter turnout in the U.S. Presidential Election has historically been relatively middling; of the citizens eligible to vote between ages eighteen and twenty-nine, only around 40% usually do. The highest turnout prior to 2020 was in the 2008 Presidential Election between Barack Obama and John McCain, with 48% of the young population voting. This year, however, it seems that more young voters will find themselves in line on Election Day. The seniors in our community who were lucky enough to turn eighteen before Election Day had a lot to think about when they took on this responsibility. How much did their parents and peers influence them? Did they educate themselves on each candidate’s platform as they formed their own views?


All of the seniors that were interviewed agreed that they have been more involved and tuned into this election than the last one, which makes sense; they weren’t able to vote in the last general election four years ago. Joan Marie Walsh said that she’s definitely “been a lot more involved. It is an honor to be able to have that privilege [to choose] someone who is gonna run this country. I’ve also been recognizing bias in sources, choosing which sources I actually value and listen to.” 


Olivia Wood echoed what Joan Marie said, adding how she feels it is so important to be involved and “understand what the candidates support and don't support, not necessarily just read social media headlines.”  


When it comes to being an informed voter, Elinor West makes the point that “if you're going to vote, you have to know how the government operation works and build the branches… and then on top of that you have to understand which arguments are for each side.” 


Seniors still live with their parents, and that can make it very difficult not to get wrapped up in their parents’ political opinions and ideas. Kyle Burbage says that his parents “encourage me to watch debates, but not the news really. It’s more how much they discuss their views around / with me that pushes me to vote one way vs another.” 


Olivia Wood says that her parents “are not putting [in] a say, however they are encouraging me to read [up] on both of the candidates to make an educated decision and not focus on social media.” 


Will Robinson has been keeping up with this election too, but wasn’t impressed with what he saw. “I think I watched one debate in 2016, just to kind of see what happened. I watched the first presidential debate this year... From what I gathered from the first debate, it didn't help me decide who I wanted to vote for... It seemed pretty surreal to me when I was watching it. It seems like a fever dream that these two people are trying to get to the highest position in the land.”


As to whether or not the seniors believed voting matters, the opinions were unanimous. Joan Marie maintains that individual votes do, in fact matter, “because we are an American democracy, and by voting, citizens are participating in the process.” 


Peyton Hensley questions if her vote alone will have any effect, but believes that “the new generation of voters has the opportunity to change the outcome.”  Kyle Burbage thinks that voting matters “because you never know what the outcome will be or how close the election will be.”


One senior, Aden Smigel, had the opportunity to volunteer at a precinct on November 3rd and provided us with some volunteer insight. Aden arrived at her “assigned place at 4:45am to help set up. Two other women and I set up the three EPBs, the electronic poll book used to check voter registration. Then, we were all sworn in holding up our right hands and basically pledged that we would conduct the election honorably, lawfully, and to the best of our ability.” 


Aden “saw people come in young and old, first time voters and long time voters.” She also said that most of the people voting seemed serious and determined to cast their vote, apart from a few first time voters who were very happy. Once the first timers voted, “the volunteers all cheered for them for reaching that milestone.” Aden thought that her work was helpful to the voters’ experience, and that it was incredible to see all types of Americans casting their votes trying to work towards a major change in the country. 


Nationwide, there has been an uptick in the amount of young citizens who choose to exercise their right to vote. In 2016, a survey by Harvard University found that 47% of citizens between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine said that they would vote, which is close to the 43% of young citizens that actually voted that year. This year, the same survey saw that  63% of the same demographic would vote this year. If the study proves true again this year, then that means there will be a 16% increase in young voter turnout. It seems then that young voter enthusiasm (for lack of a better term) has gone up with the coverage of this year’s election.


Within the SSSAS community, it seems that many of the seniors able to vote may very well exercise that right this year. A good number of the seniors we spoke to are excited to vote and eager to do so. As Peyton Hensley puts it, “I have the chance to choose how I want my country to be.” Elinor West feels the same way. “I was more excited about it, because I knew that as a person who's new to voting, I had the chance to make a difference.” Will Robinson was on the other side of the spectrum. “I kind of remember thinking back in 2016, ‘thank God I don't have to vote in this election,’ and it seems like it just didn't change this year.”