Creating Informed, Prepared Voters
League of Women Voters Work with High Schools
During the mock election at Loy Norrix High School, one student raised his hand while he was filling out his ballot.
League of Women Voter - Kalamazoo Area volunteer Jennie Hill walked over
“He said he was only voting for governor and voting ‘no’ on Proposal 1,” she said. “I said that was OK, and he went on to say that it was stupid that there was no more straight ticket voting. I did have to tell him to read Proposal 3, because that was going to have straight ticket voting written back into the state constitution if it passed.”
He looked sheepish and said,” Maybe this (mock election) wasn’t such a bad idea. Maybe I should have read up on the proposals.”
And this is exactly why the League works with the Kalamazoo city and county clerks to run the Voter Education Project, said Hill, who is also secretary for the Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Education.
“The purpose of the Voter Education Project is to educate young people about the voting process, which includes: reasons to vote, how to register to vote, how to become an informed voter, and how and when to cast a ballot,” Hill said.
During the mock election held at Loy Norrix High School, students could talk to others when mulling over the ballot, ask for help inserting the ballots into the tabulating machines, and correct friends who had checked circles rather than filling them in on the ballot.
The Voter Education Project began in 2008, when League members noticed trends of lower voter turnout in certain precincts. Those precincts coincided with some of the lower socioeconomic neighborhoods in the Kalamazoo Public Schools district.
“We believe that if you can show people that voting really can make a difference by choosing a candidate that you agree with; take away the superstitions and rumors around it (like jury lists come from voter registration lists — they don’t, they come from drivers license lists); and make something relevant to students; they will pay attention and vote when they turn 18,” she said.
For KPS high schools, the League goes into the schools to hold voter registration drives.
“You want to make a difference in the world. It starts with us,” said senior Lillia Bistrek, who registered during drive held during her lunch at Loy Norrix. And, fellow senior Marcos Mujica said, “It’s my duty to have a voice.”
The League, which is educational and nonpartisan, also holds informational meetings about the upcoming elections. The educational presentation that the League has developed has been used by by other Michigan LWV and in school districts such as Ann Arbor, Schoolcraft, Muskegon, and at Heritage Christian Academy in Kalamazoo.
Volunteers organize mock elections complete with modified ballots and actual voting machines. Eleventh-grade AP government students act as poll workers, while seniors vote. The county clerk’s office provides the ballot programming, while the city clerk’s office provides the election equipment. The Michigan Election Resources office provides the ballots.
“Oftentimes when someone feels they might make a mistake when doing something they have never done before, the individual simply will not do it,” said Shelby Moss, deputy city clerk for the City of Kalamazoo. “Providing an opportunity for the students to vote in a mock election while still in high school provides a learning opportunity. When the student turns 18, they can vote in a real election, and they will know what to do without being fearful of the process.”
Moss said her No. 1 message for voters, young or old, novice or experienced, is to check your voter registration before Election Day, make sure your address is current, come prepared with your selections.
“Our message to voters about Election Day is be informed voters.”