Bringing the election to high schoolers – sort of

Union High School, voting
Students at Union High School in Grand Rapids learn about the practical application of voting. (Oct. 26, 2016)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — If it seems like all anyone is talking about is this contentious — and some say traumatic — election, then maybe a trip to your local high school is in order.

As a class of some 40 teens gathered in the media room of Union High School Wednesday, the adult at the front of the class asked who was paying attention to the election. Two or three hands tentatively raised halfway.

Young people ages 18 to 29 are notorious for not voting, so the Michigan Secretary of State brought a bevy of staff from Lansing to talk to kids at Union High School. Secretary of State Ruth Johnson was ill so she did not make it herself.

“The practical part of voting and their right to vote is very different than the political arena,” said Linda Lee Tarver, Michigan Secretary of State’s outreach coordinator. “We wanted to take the stigma and the fear a little bit out of voting and have the opportunity for them to vote.”

The teens were able to get out of an hour of class and fill out a ballot that is pretty much the same as the ballot they will see as adults. Only instead of Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump, they were asked to vote for vanilla, strawberry or chocolate ice cream (vanilla was the surprise winner) and on a ballot question asking whether a three-day weekend should be approved (that won by a landslide).

“I feel like every vote matters. Even one vote can turn the table,” 17-year-old Daveontae Glasco said.

“It showed me what voting really is and what you can do during voting and what you can’t do,” said Jarred Sietsema, also 17. “Yeah, it’s helpful.”

But not everyone was ready to run out to the polls.

“I might vote, I might not, depending on how I feel,” said 16-year-old Susely Lopez-Salvatierra.

The process also helped show the students the mechanics of voting are secure in a time when some are saying the system is flawed and vulnerable to tampering.

“Our records are hack-free. We’re doing our best to make sure of that and we’ve not had a breach,” Tarver said.

The organizers said the test at Union went well and it seems like a good thing to replicate at schools statewide.