On Feb. 27, hundreds of Guilford County seniors missed part of school to participate in early voting for the first time.
The program to bus eligible student voters to early voting sites was started by superintendent Sharon Contrearas, chief academic officer Whitney Oakly and head of social studies Jonathan Permar. Guilford County is the only school district in North Carolina to do this; it was intended to make sure students had access to early voting.
English teachers distributed permission slips to go vote early and provided laptops for students to research candidates on vote411.org.
“It provided an opportunity (for students),” English teacher Andrea Julian said. “If we can help to get (students) to the (voting sites), it motivates them to vote.”
Social studies teacher Jim Jiles shares this sentiment. He helped register seniors at Northwest; people would go around during lunch periods with registration forms to help facilitate the process for new voters.
“The biggest impediment to voting is registration,” Jiles said. “If (we) get kids registered to vote, then the odds are likely that they are going to go (vote). The bright spot of my day was to watch kids vote for the first time in (their) lives. That’s massive.”
After getting students registered and ready, Guilford County buses took students to different voting sites across the region to alleviate foot traffic.
However, there were some slight blips in the process. The permission slips and registration were slightly rushed as information trickled down very late in the early voting process. Plus, people returned much later than expected due to high traffic.
“Anytime you start something new, it might start a little late,” Jiles said. “(It’s) a great idea. While it might be a little late, it’s still valid.”
The new program was polarizing; some praised its emphasis on encouraging students to participate in their civic duty of voting.
“I think it’s great that they’re encouraging students to do their civil duty,” senior Claire Halterman said. “It was a little crazy, and we definitely could have talked more about the candidates. If it was organized a little better ahead of time, it could have been great, but this was just the trial run.”
Others claimed that the process was partisan and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
“We’re using tax dollars to bus students to vote, and some people fear that we are going to tell kids how to vote,” Jiles said. “We won’t, (and) we didn’t. We shouldn’t tell you who to vote for; your family shouldn’t tell you who to vote for; you should make your mind up for yourself. We (are just trying) to get people involved with the political process as voting is the simplest form of being politically active.”
The program is predicted to happen again next year as the general election of 2020 is happening the next fall quarter.
“The school gave a good incentive and opportunity to go vote,” senior Addison Middleton said. “I decided to go vote (on Feb. 27) because I am 18, and that is something that all American citizens should do.”