A civic duty granted to teens when they turn 18, voting is something that directly impacts our democracy. This upcoming midterm election has prompted a lot of discussion about the importance of casting a vote for a candidate and, on a larger scale, the interests that they will represent in our democracy if elected.
Dr. Natasha Naujoks, Upper School political science teacher, discussed the importance of our right to vote and how historically rooted it is. “The goal of this year is to really fulfill a part of Norfolk Academy’s philosophy and objectives, which is that we aim to prepare useful and responsible citizens of a democracy,” said Dr. Naujoks. “If you don’t exercise that right to vote responsibly, you are not only not doing justice to past generations, but you risk diluting our democracy.”
Our right to vote has not always been natural. We had to fight for it, and we must be appreciative. By voting, we as individuals can feel vested in a sense of ownership of what happens. By being passive, the decisions are made for — not by — us. Dr. Naujoks emphasized the importance of realizing what, as voters, is important to us and finding candidates that best represent those interests, because “all politics are local.” She encouraged her students that were going to be 18 by the election to register to vote, even designating class time to promote this sense of civic duty.
A tenet of our history, the act of voting has changed dramatically since the first presidential election in 1789, yet the idea behind it has not. Having attended a high school very similar to Norfolk Academy, Upper School math teacher Mr. Tom Duquette learned as much about the weight of voting as we do today. He had the unique opportunity of having a teacher and coach who was both a delegate to the state constitutional convention and a dedicated political activist who made sure that his students understood their responsibilities. After graduating and heading off to the University of Virginia, Mr. Duquette still could not vote, because the voting age was still 21. The 26th Amendment, passed in 1971, changed the voting age to 18, so Mr. Duquette’s first time voting was when he was 20 years old. He drove three hours home to Baltimore, solely to fulfill his civic duty of voting in person.
Upper School physics teacher Mr. Neil Duffy remembers his first time voting as being somewhat similar but with a few key differences. A midshipman at the Naval Academy, he said he “was cognizant and aware of the significance of the opportunity to vote, especially as a member of the armed forces.” He said that he probably voted in person on the grounds at the Naval Academy, and would have had the means to do so, since his mother was very good at keeping track of his things as he moved around, specifically with documents concerning elections.
As first-time voters, members of the senior class had many emotions and feelings behind our current political climate. While some, like Ingrid Benkovitz ’19, said that she was “excited to finally truly see and feel what the process was like,” others were not as excited, instead viewing is as a something like jury duty: something they need to do. However, of the 42 seniors eligible to vote, many said their decision to take time out of a busy day to vote was incentivized around things like “making a difference,” “expressing political opinions,” and “realizing that it is a milestone that signifies being an adult.” Anthony Asuncion ’19 reasoned, “Voting is a quiet and implicit way of expressing and making decisions on your personal behalf.” Samantha Farpour ’19 said she realized the importance of voting by how elections have gone in past years, especially regarding the turnouts. Cameron Lloyd ’19 summarized the act of voting by saying, “It’s something that I have been ready to do since I was aware of it. It’s a duty that I am excited to fulfill.”
While not everyone was necessarily excited to vote, the realization of the necessity of doing so was evident. The presence of an education of voting seems much more needed in a time when social and digital politics have become so prevalent. With the influence of parents, media, and never-ending advertisements everywhere we look, we can often lose track of a bipartisan review of elections and become inundated with biased and often wrong information about individual candidates.
There has been so much weight placed on the impact of young people voting in this election, yet as Mr. Duquette said, “It’s important whether it’s your first time or your fiftieth time.” Voting never loses importance. For people of all ages and for all elections, voting is the opportunity to influence legislation and laws, and choose who represents us as counties, cities, states, and as a nation. By stressing the significance of this civic duty earlier, we can see the impact that young voters have and enforce these good habits of making a difference. In past elections, turnout and motivation for elections have been significantly lessened. Now that the process itself is more accomodating and more readily attainable, especially through absentee ballots and early voting, there is no longer an excuse for not participating. By not voting, you give up the opportunity to be upset about the outcomes.
So get out, go to the polls, and make your own difference! Maybe members of the senior class will see you there.