BY: ALYSSA GREENBAUM

According to Consumer News and Business Channel (CNBC), America had a youth voter turnout of over 159 million in this year’s election. This was one of the biggest youth turnouts in US history, putting an end to the nation’s decades of low youth turnout. Students at the Bay, like senior Emma Kozlowski, who just turned 18, which is the eligible age to vote, contributed to this historic turnout by voting for the first time. Kozlowski said that it was exciting to cast her vote to make a change in electoral politics.

“It is exciting to think I’m able to cause the change that you want to see in the government,” Kozlowski said. “Voting allows for my voice to be heard and it’s cool to do that for the first time.”

Kozlowski said that she did considerable research before voting. She said that we should not mishandle voting, because it is a tool in a democracy, which is why she took the time to research all the stances of the candidates that would be on her ballot for both national and local elections. She also said she looked into Florida-specific ballot components such as amendments, which would make changes to Florida’s constitution.

“I researched online about the positions, the candidates, and the amendments [that were on the ballot] on various non-partisan websites,” Kozlowski said. “There were a few candidates I had never heard of, so it was difficult finding information on them and their values, but it is worthwhile to research to make an informed decision.”

Similar to Kozlowski, senior Victoria Torres voted for the first time in the 2020 election. She said that she felt empowered and responsible when casting her vote. 

It was such a defining experience to be able to cast my vote and participate in this country’s democratic process,” Torres said. “Especially given that this election seems to be one of the most important ones because the nation is so divided; voting ensures that an accurate depiction of the nation’s views is demonstrated.”

Torres said she felt that she had a moral obligation to start becoming more civically engaged now that she had an opportunity to make decisions that not only affect herself but for others as well. 

“I believe that if you have the opportunity to vote, then you have a democratic obligation to do so,” Torres said. People who are allowed to vote have an opportunity to have their voice heard that so many people in this country would love to have, yet don’t.”

Kozlowski said due to the pandemic and wanting to be safe, she decided to vote through a mail-in ballot. This is a method where one does not have to go to polling stations to vote, but can instead fill out a ballot by mail and drop it off into a ballot box, which the postal companies would deliver to the polling stations for the final count. She said she was only familiar with in-person voting methods since that is what her parents traditionally do, so learning how to turn in her ballot by mail properly was a learning experience.

“In all honesty, I didn’t feel very educated on the election process when it comes down to how to submit my ballot by mail and making sure that I was registered,” Kozlowski said. “However, filling out and dropping off the ballot was simple once my mom helped, if my mom didn’t help me I wouldn’t have been able to get my mail-in ballot.”

Ches Kanno, Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) Sociology and African American History Honors teacher at the Bay, said he is content to see young people get out and vote. He said some students in his classes have shown interest in politics, and he knows how exciting it is for them to be able to vote this year.

I’m always pleased to hear the excitement and concern from students who have an interest in the politics and policies that affect them,” Kanno said. “Whether it be voting for the first time or aspiring to go into politics, it is a reassuring feeling to know the students value their civic duty as a part of a holistic education.”

Kanno said students with the opportunity to vote should. Still, he is aware of the possibility that one cannot vote due to historical practices of voter suppression, which discourage certain groups of people from voting or having their vote counted. He said this was an important election for the United States and that practices like voter suppression make him wary of the state of the country’s democracy.

“There will always be people who won’t vote for a variety of reasons, the main issue concerning me is voter suppression,” Kanno said. “Everyone who votes needs to be counted. There was so much at stake with this election than any other time in recent memory, so [voter suppression] worries me because we will have to wait and see the long-term effects of what this means.”

Torres said she feels it is extremely important for eligible voters to go out and cast their vote. She said that with greater youth turnout, the issues they advocate for like climate change and reducing student loan debts may be more heard.

“Having a high turnout of voters was the only way to make sure that this country is steered in the right direction and operates under the will of the people and what young people want,” Torres said.