Before her high school social studies class on Friday, 16-year-old Demaleena Long wasn’t sure about voting. ”There’s so many people in the world,” she said, “and then there’s me. It’s not like my vote would be the deciding vote for somebody. I didn’t think it mattered.”
Less than half of eligible Hawaii residents voted in the 2008 election. But when I visited teacher Jason Duncan’s open-window classroom at Mililani High School, I learned it doesn’t always have to be that way. Duncan’s students debate policy issues, talk about candidates, discuss the voting process and, with the help of a group called Kids Voting Hawaii, practice an online version of the voting process, so they’ll know what to expect at the polls.
In short, he’s trying to use education to kill voter apathy.
"As a social studies teacher, one of my responsibilities is to create an informed citizenry," he said.
Friday’s classroom discussion on women’s suffrage and on why so few Hawaii residents vote piqued Long’s interest. She listened as her classmates spoke passionately about their opposition to healthcare, their support of conservation, their anger about traffic in Honolulu and their concerns about “overpopulation.” (Boy in white T-shirt: “If you go to Sandy Beach and catch a wave, there’s 10 other people on that same wave!”)
They also chimed in with at least a dozen reasons people in Hawaii don’t vote: laziness, apathy, lack of education, disillusionment with the process, feelings of helplessness and a general disdain for the negativity of he-said-she-said of partisan politics.
Long came away from the discussion believing those are hurdles that can and should be overcome. “After listening,” she said, “it makes me realize voting is really important.”
Maybe the next generation of Hawaii voters will see it that way, too.