Organizers hope for strong teen turnout as Nov. 3 election looms

October 16, 2020 — by Nicole Lu

Class of 2019 alumna Alex Ruemmler shows off her postcard writing. Ruemmler has been reaching out to voters over the past few weeks to make sure they know how to check their voting status and how to vote.

On Feb. 22, Class of 2020 alumna Mitra Mokhlesi felt a twinge of exhilaration as she dropped off her ballot at West Valley College. In the days prior, she had spent hours researching the candidates in the California primary elections. Only as she left the voting center did Mokhlesi realize the strangeness of the situation.

 “I felt excited but also odd because everyone at the voting center was a lot older than me,” she said. “I felt like they were a little intimidated by a high schooler voting.”

Like Mokhlesi, many young voters have to make an adjustment to the reality and responsibility of voting, and many don’t succeed. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people ages 18 to 24 have consistently voted at lower rates than all other age groups. In the 1996 and 2000 elections, just 30 percent of young adults voted. By the 2016 election, this number had increased to 46.1 percent, but it lagged compared to citizens 65 and older, who voted at a rate of 70.9 percent.

As the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3 draws closer, many alumni and current SHS seniors have spoken out about the importance of voting. Mokhlesi, now a freshman at the University of Michigan, said she plans to continue voting this fall.

“There are many issues on both a local and national level that I really care about,” Mokhleshi said. “When I voted in the primaries, I voted as a resident of California because I felt that was when my voice would be most valuable. For the general election, however, I am now a registered voter in Michigan because there are more local issues that will impact me, and I will have greater influence in the federal offices up for election.”

Seven hundred miles away in Tennessee, Class of 2019 alumna Alex Ruemmler expressed the same sentiment. Although it was difficult navigating the voter registration process, she voted for the first time last February in the Tennessee primaries, a move that was partially inspired by the individuals she saw during her time at Saratoga High.

“I don't think I ever considered not voting, but having people come to SHS to pre-register to vote was a great way to encourage people who may not have otherwise voted,” Ruemmler said. “I think being on a college campus makes a person feel more obligated to vote because there’s tons of pressure from peers and campus organizations to register and vote.”

Some current students have already become eligible voters. Senior Irika Katiyar will be filling out a ballot for the first time this November.

With the unprecedented events related to COVID-19 and the rise of many important social issues being decided in the months and years ahead, Katiyar credits family discussions about current events as inspiration for her to register. Katiyar said she has begun taking a greater interest in topics pertaining to politics over the past few months.

“I don't really think there was anyone or anything that persuaded me to vote except for myself,” Katiyar said. “I have always wanted to vote ever since I knew I would be able to a few years ago. I think the fact that I'm taking American Government has also helped me become more informed on what's going on.”

Even as many eligible student voters are planning to vote this November, others are also expressing their concerns about the real value of their vote. 

Other young adults, including Class of 2020 alumnus Mathew Wang, are torn between believing their vote will make a genuine difference and the idea that their choice holds little value in a sea of millions. He pointed out the phenomenon experts call the paradox of voting: the belief that in a multitude of electors, the vote of an individual matters little and ultimately does little to influence the outcome.

“While I do know that my vote will most likely be insignificant, I plan to do the research on the candidates and vote as a way to learn what it's like and in the hopes that my research will increase my political knowledge,” Wang said. “But do I feel like I make a genuine difference? No, and I say that if you objectively look at the statistics, it's a simple fact that you don't.”

Even so, Wang thinks young adults should still vote because politicians will then have more incentive to pay attention to the newer generations. 

For her part, Mokhlesi approaches voting from a different perspective. During her time at UMich, she heard of the close margin in Michigan in the 2016 election and believes in the importance of her vote. 

“One big difference between being a voter in Ann Arbor instead of Saratoga is that I actually feel a greater need to vote on state and national issues,” Mokhlesi said. “Michigan is a divided state and each vote really does make a difference.”

Wang, who has lived in a Democratic California for most of his life and is studying at the University of California Santa Barbara, noted the common sentiments and political viewpoints predominant in the state and in Saratoga in particular.

“I think it's pretty clear that Saratoga is a relatively wealthy neighborhood and that it represents a biased sample of the American populace,” Wang said. “I think that there’s no place in America where a fully representative sample is possible, although many may be much more representative than Saratoga.”

In places such as swing state Michigan and deep red Tennessee, however, where the political climates are significantly more varied, political opinions differ much more notably. 

For Ruemmler, it was rough adjusting to the strongly Republican political climate in Tennessee, a situation she still faces regularly both at Vanderbilt University and around town.

“Obviously each person is entitled to their own opinions, but I've found that using personal anecdotes works really well to explain to other people why you have a certain view,” Ruemmler said.

As election day grows closer, both students and alumni have begun urging friends and family to vote. 

Mokhlesi said that although the process of registering to vote might seem daunting to students, it’s very simple.

“I see so many people pointing out issues in our country, and there is only one way to truly solve them,” Mokhlesi said. “Research your candidates, both nationally and locally, and vote. The current political climate in America is dysfunctional, but with higher voter turnout, we can fix it.”


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