High school students talk about voting, voter registration

Sydney Dunmire, Ohio youth governor, 69th governor of the Ohio YMCA youth and government program, and senior at Rutherford B. Hayes High School. 

As the presidential race wages on, emerging 18-year-old high school students will be able to exercise their voting power in the upcoming primaries and presidential election. According to Axios, Generation Z will make up 10 percent of the electorate.  

Owen Kirby, a junior at Theodore Roosevelt High School, will be among the new Generation Z voters casting their ballots at the polls. 

Kirby, who turns 18 in May, said it’s important for him to be engaged in politics because he aspires to be a fashion designer and fashion’s impact on the environment is an issue he’s passionate about.  

“I think as a young person and as somebody who has the ability to make change, I should be pushing towards that,” Kirby said. 

Kirby said politics have always been a part of his life because he comes from a family of outspoken women. His mother, who is the director of the Women’s Center at Kent State, has had a huge impact on his political views. 

“I’ve been around the Women’s Center ever since I was younger and I also listened to my mom talk about different issues and stuff like that and I think that her passion just kind of rubbed off on me,” Kirby said. 

At Kirby’s high school, American government teacher Nikki Marchmon-Boykin emphasizes the importance of voter education and politics to her students.  

At one of the high school’s basketball games, Marchmon-Boykin worked with a colleague who oversees the Distributive Education Clubs of America [DECA] program. DECA is a global program that prepares rising high school leaders and entrepreneurs in “marketing, finance, hospitality and management,” according to the DECA website.

“They have to do projects every year and senior year they can pick what project they want to do,” Marchmon-Boykin said. “One of the groups in his program picked voter education.” 

With help from Marchmon-Boykin, who gave them some pitfalls of voter registration, they registered between 20 and 25 people to vote. 

“For example, a lot of times people put the United States where it says county, they put country instead of county because they’re not paying attention, or they’ll put their birthday where it says what the date today or vice versa and that invalidates your voter registration. You have to look for those things while you’re doing the registration,” Marchmon-Boykin said. 

She stresses to her students that in Ohio if a student is 17 years old during the primaries they are eligible to vote, but only if they will be eighteen by the general election. 

“Most of them [students] get registered in my class. So I think they were surprised and yet excited to learn about being able as 17-year-olds to be able to vote. And I think a lot of them thought they were going to have to wait right until November,” Marchmon-Boykin said. 

To encourage her students to care more about voter education and politics, she tries to give them interactive learning experiences that will get them motivated. She recently had her students research Democratic and Republican candidates to find out what political issues may align with their views. 

“We’ve talked about political parties, the function of political parties from the grassroots on up to the national committee level, because I always tell them, you may never run for office, but you may help someone run for office,” Marchmon-Boykin said. “So you need to know the structure and the purpose of the parties.” 

Marchmon-Boykin also created a Twitter account geared to her class. During presidential debates, they will engage with each other about points politicians made in the debate. 

“I have some kids who are really politically active on social media kind of the way I am,” Marchmon-Boykin said. 

Marchmon-Boykin said during debates she will tweet with her students and have them focus on questions they will have to respond to. 

Kirby said social media should be a tool when it comes to reaching out to his generation and encouraging them to vote. 

“You go on social media, like on every platform, and there’s nothing, nothing about registering to vote,” Kirby said.

In Columbus, Sydney Dunmire is a high school senior who serves as Ohio youth governor with the Ohio YMCA Youth and Government Program. 

The Ohio YMCA Youth and Government Program is a mock state legislature with all three of the branches of government: judicial, legislative and executive. 

“We also have lobbyists that usually like to argue bills, and we have the media so those are people interested in more photography and journalism,” Dunmire said.

Dumire’s political awakening began her eighth grade year after President Trump announced he was running for president. Shortly after he was elected into office, she said she noticed a difference between the Obama administration and Trump administration. 

When it comes to getting her generation involved with politics, she believes it’s important to have a personal connection with the audience. 

“I can get on my Twitter and tweet all I want about how important it is to vote. But when you tell someone that their vote in their voice matters, it has a different impact because you can see the look on their face and try to engage them in that conversation,” Dunmire said. 

Aside from voting in the general and primary elections, Marchmon-Boykin also tells her students the importance of voting in local elections. 

“We all have somebody in our family who’s going to go to court; you might want to know who the judge is or who the prosecutors are. We’ve talked about issues of injustice; if you haven’t voted for these people who are in these offices, then you’re part of the problem,” Marchmon-Boykin said. 

She said voter education is a personal matter for her because she’s an African American woman and many African Americans died for the right to vote. 

“I think people just need to be engaged more and take more control of their lives politically, because I think people have the sense that they can’t make change or people just don’t care,” Marchmon-Boykin said.

Gershon Harrell is a general assignment reporter. Contact him at [email protected]