“Do More Research”: Seniors Reflect on First Votes
A lone campaign sign remains after Walls served as a polling place last month / Credits: Tess Buckley
Seniors at School Without Walls who cast their ballots for the first time this November upon entering adulthood noted that although the voting itself was exciting, the research process proved a bit more complex than many had expected.
With most candidates on the ballot in heavily Democratic D.C. sitting on the left of the political spectrum, seniors said it was difficult to determine the differences between different choices. “Sometimes it’s harder to know who to pick because everyone has similar views,” senior Elanor Hurwood explained.
Regardless, Hurwood, who turned eighteen just in time for the election, was eager to receive her ballot. “Cast your vote anyways,” she advised. “Ever since Trump was elected it’s been on the forefront of my mind.”
Hurwood wasn’t the only senior passionate about casting a ballot. Fabiha Hatem, who was out of town before Election Day, told her mother she needed to be back in D.C. by Nov. 8 so she could vote in person. “I’m first gen American,” Hatem explained, which she said added to her eagerness to get to the polls.
While they were excited to vote, neither Hurwood and Hatem felt they did enough research to distinguish between candidates. “I think that I didn’t take the time properly to look,” Hurwood said regarding some of the more minor offices on the ballot.
Noah Pershing, another senior, directed most of his attention towards the more well-known contests, such as the at-large Council race. “I definitely regret that I didn't do really any research for smaller ones,” Pershing said regarding the positions on the ballot. “Like ANC — I didn't even look at it.” The Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners (ANC) are local representatives who advocate for neighborhood necessities like stop signs and street lights, among other things.
He also thought it was difficult to differentiate between most candidates. “They're all generally going to vote the same way,” he said. “Whatever their biggest issue is, is what they're going to push for most.”
“A lot of the candidates aligned with my views,” Hurwood added. “I really just wanted to see the candidate had a clear plan and clear goals.”
Although seniors had to navigate most of the voting process on their own, they had some resources from school: Kerry Sylvia, who teaches D.C. History and Government and AP U.S. Government, held discussions in her classes about Initiative 82, a ballot measure raising the minimum wage for tipped workers. Ms. Sylvia made the complex issue a focus of her discussions with students. “I wanted them to have a solid understanding of what it was saying and to look at both sides,” she said. It was important to her that every student, even those not yet eligible to vote, could have an informed opinion about it.
Hurwood appreciated the opportunity for discussion, saying, “It gave me a better understanding of what was going on, and to hear what other people had to say like the pros and cons.” She also said that she initially felt her opinion about it was set, but once she talked about it with her classmates, she began to reconsider.
Ms. Sylvia also provided articles and online resources to help her students start their research, like the website vote411.org, which she explained was essentially an online database for voting information across the United States. “You put in your address, and then you're able to show not only information on candidates, but information about registering to vote,” she said.
Seniors agreed even D.C. elections shouldn’t be overlooked. “There should be more awareness,” Pershing said, “and be more push for people to know about the election, know about the candidates, all of those things.”