Your voice, your vote? Ineligible voters at Payton feel unrepresented

By Kate Lavin, Staff Writer

Nearly 123 million Americans are ineligible to vote. That means that more than one-third of the population has no say in the upcoming election on Tuesday, November 3. This significant group includes those who are currently or formerly incarcerated, people without US citizenship, many people with disabilities, and those under the age of 18. And, of course, in Payton and high schools across the country, most students cannot vote due to their age. But with many young activists speaking out about issues ranging from racism to gun violence, there is no shortage of political opinions among students. So what do the members of the Payton community have to say about the current political climate?

103 students from Payton, who are ineligible voters, responded to a recent Paw Print survey saying they often pay attention to politics, and many of them did not until recently. It is unsurprising that in a liberal stronghold such as Payton, almost 60% of these students identified as a Democrat. Those who did not, however, discussed how they felt uncomfortable sharing their views in school. “If you are not a liberal at Payton your views are essentially disregarded as a whole”, one student, who has chosen to remain anonymous, wrote. The 8% of respondents that support President Trump and Vice President Pence chose to keep their identity private. 

Conservatives were not the only ones who felt uncomfortable sharing their views in school. Of the surveyed students, 15% echoed this and 32 students said they only “sometimes” wanted to share their political ideas. A majority of students, around 67%, felt safer discussing their views at home. Homelife also had a clear impact on the beliefs of Payton high schoolers. It was a nearly fifty-fifty split between students who reported that they shared similar beliefs as their parents and those who agreed with their parents on some of their views. A study done in 2018 by the University of Chicago Press Journals found that three-fourths of children will inherit their parents or guardians’ political beliefs if both parents are part of the same party.

Nonetheless, there was one thing that most students agreed on: they did not feel represented in the government. When asked in which parts of government- local, state, and federal- students felt represented in, 26.8%responded with “none of the above.” The number of those who didfeel they had representation decreased as the government moved to the national level. Students felt the most represented in their local governments, then state governments, and the least represented in the federal government.

When asked what made students feel represented in the government, there was an overwhelming call for more women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community to be in positions of power. “Having people of different genders, races, and ethnicities in the Senate and House gives me hope that one of them might be like me,” said Melanie Robles ‘23. “Maybe they don’t hold the same beliefs I do, but they understand where I’m coming from, and they understand what I need.” There were also some students who pointed out class differences in the federal government. They wanted to see more working class representation and pointed out that the cost of campaigning keeps more middle income individuals from running. 

Many students also wrote they did not feel represented because they could not vote. Of the student respondents 68.9% said they wished they could vote, but only 25.5% said they would lower the voting age, and around 47% of students opted to keep the status quo. The students’ emotions that surrounded their inability to vote were largely negative. Many wrote that they felt anxious, useless, and frustrated. When asked what they would change about the current political system, many proposed the idea of abolishing the electoral college. This has gained popularity in past years, with a recent Gallup survey reporting that 61% of Americans support amending the constitution and abolishing the  electoral college. Several students also expressed their dissatisfaction with the country’s two-party system. 

Although they cannot vote, there are many opportunities for students to exercise their civic duties . Starting when students are 16 years old, teenagers can volunteer to serve as election judges. They can sign petitions to enact change and use social media to express their beliefs. Many organizations also allow youth to volunteer by themselves beginning when they are 13 or 14 years old, and those younger can go if accompanied by a parent. 

Clubs within Payton, such as Black Student Union, Payton Organization of Immigrants, Queer Straight Alliance, and many more provide safe spaces for discussions and advocate for equal rights around the school. Payton’s Amnesty International chapter advocates for change across the world. 

In regards to the election, if Payton students were able to vote, former Vice President Biden and Senator Harris would have 88% of the popular vote. But the views of these students expand beyond the 2020 election, and into different American political realms. “People also underestimate the voices of young people and the fresh perspectives they bring to the table,” Anoushka Lal ‘24 said. “It feels as if my voice was taken from me… Young people should be able to voice in.”

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