'They’re the ones who have to do the work': Colorado educators fight for youth engagement in politics

Political Science Fair at Standley Lake High School
Posted at 8:38 PM, Nov 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-03 00:42:26-04

WESTMINSTER, Colo. — Midterm elections have historically seen low turnout, especially among younger voters, but we are seeing the ground shift.

The Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School recently released its fall youth poll, which found that 40% of 18 to 29 year olds in the United States said they will “definitely” vote in the 2022 midterm elections. Another 16% said they “probably will be voting.”

At those numbers, we could meet or exceed young voter turnout seen in the 2018 midterms, which itself broke records.

However, even at these potentially record-breaking numbers, young voters would still be far outpaced by older voters, as has been the case for generations. Colorado educators, though, see a different future in the faces of their students.

“My students probably get annoyed because I quote Ben Franklin to them all the time: ‘a republic, if you can keep it,’” said Christy Hayashi, a government teacher at Standley Lake High School in Westminster. “If we are going to have a democracy, a sustaining democracy, they’re the ones who have to do the work.”

Hayashi and her colleagues hosted a “political science fair” this week, tasking each of their students to study and present a ballot proposition or local candidate for office. It culminated in an open house Tuesday evening, which saw dozens of candidates and hundreds of students and community members come out to better understand the people and issues in the race before election day.

“The whole goal was to keep it nonpartisan, to inform the community,” Hayashi said.

Most of the participating students are freshman, and therefore will not be old enough to vote in this year’s election. Early participation, though, could lead to more enduring engagement in the political process throughout their lives, Hayashi hopes.

“There are a lot of laws and propositions that people are trying to pass and can change the course of somebody’s life very easily,” freshman Anna Apatow said.

“Since the majority of us are just getting into politics, [we] had some interesting and very deep questions,” classmate Isaac Palma agreed.

The Harvard Youth Poll asked respondents to name their top two issues as they cast their ballots. Inflation, abortion, protecting democracy, climate change and gun control were the top five answers, per the poll.

Both Apatow and Palma listed the same top two — inflation and abortion — when asked what issues are the most top of mind for them and their friends.

While the issues list could look much different by the time each turns 18 and votes in their first election, they are thankful that this process has taught them how to become informed voters, and, perhaps most importantly, taught them the value of being informed voters.

“I’m very excited to start voting,” Apatow said. “There are a lot of propositions and laws that are trying to be passed that could very well change the course of my life.”