On Thursday, Nov. 1, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School transported nine students to a local polling station at the Parkland Recreational Center so they could vote for the very first time.
The trip, which was referred to as the voting bus, was organized by Sociology teacher Sandra Davis and Advanced Placement Government and Economics teacher Jeff Foster who managed to sign up 33 students for the trip. Ultimately, nine went on the field trip.
“Ms. Davis approached me with it and they were trying to give kids the opportunity to vote,” Foster said. “We are not the only school that did it in the county; the majority of the schools did.”
The idea for this field trip was proposed by Broward County Public Schools and was offered to every high school in the county that was willing to participate. BCPS provided school buses to every school that opted to participate. The idea was to allow seniors of legal voting age the opportunity to vote.
The work of the Road to Change program to go out and register young people around the country to vote, as well as the shooting at MSD, were a few of many inspirations that prompted a nationwide push for younger people to involve themselves in politics.
“It’s unfortunate how this voting thing was spurred on by our incident in the school… but if we want to take some silver lining from what happened, it seems like younger people are motivated to change legislatures and legislation now, so that’s a good thing,” Foster said.
Since the voting age in the United States is 18, only a few seniors were able to participate in the November election. A voter’s first time can be seen as a transitional point in one’s growth from a teenager to an active young citizen and the nine students who participated in the voting bus are some of the very first amongst their peers to experience this transition.
“Voting for the first time was a good experience,” senior Matthew Fisher said. “I got to feel like part of the adult society for a nationwide event… I think that this voting bus was a good idea because it encouraged young voters from our school to exercise their newly obtained right to vote.”
To help the students learn about their new power, a representative of Broward County’s Supervisor of Elections office, Mceddy Masson, came to speak with MSD students about the importance of voting. Masson works in the Voting Education Department. One thing he emphasized was the importance of voting and how every vote matters.
“I think every vote matters in every election,” senior Maddie King said. “Even though it seems like so many vote that yours won’t count, it will. If 100 people don’t vote, the election could go completely differently, especially in Florida where elections are so close.”
The trip’s effort to help represent young people in elections is especially important due to the age group’s historically low turnout rates. According to the United States Census Bureau, voter turnout for young people has always ranged between 40 to 50 percent; this is drastically smaller than the average 60 to 70 percent turnout for individuals older than 30.
The education system also plays a big role in how students perceive their role in politics, which is why many students and teachers were pleased by the introduction of the voting bus. In most schools, politics are rarely taught, aside from in government classes. Typically, it is taboo for teachers to speak about politics in the classroom; however, some students believe that there should be more political involvement in the classroom.
“The education system can provide access to articles about different candidates, so that the students can become more aware of what is going on during election time,” Fisher said.
The transition from becoming a teen to an adult with the ability to determine the future of their country is often more than many are prepared for. The implementation of activities such as the voting bus trip is one outlet for students to become more involved and informed citizens.
This story was originally published in the January 2019 Eagle Eye print edition.