Practical Politics

Dane Malko, a senior at Wood River High School, casts his first vote at the Community Campus in last Tuesday’s election. Photo credit: Nancy Malko

First-time Voters And Volunteers Turn Out Big At The Polls

By WRW Staff

Voting was a family affair for Maeve Bailey, as she completed her civic duty for the first time with father, Will, cheering her on. Bailey is a senior at SVCS and one of Bomstein’s U.S. Government students. Photo courtesy: Caroline Bomstein

Will Ring, a senior at Sun Valley Community School, always planned to vote in the November 8 midterm elections. “I turned 18 in September, so this was my first chance to vote, and I was really excited about it,” Ring said. And two classmates at school, both students in Caroline Bomstein’s U.S. Government class who were undertaking a special elections project for honors credit, held him accountable to his plans. Ring explained, “Students in that class helped make sure that anyone who was eligible to vote knew where to go, when to go, what they needed to register, and helped educate us about the candidates and issues. It helped me understand what to expect and what additional research I needed to do before showing up to vote.” He easily completed the same-day registration and cast his first ballot.

Ring’s seamless experience was by design. Bomstein said she was glad to hear that the students had a good first voting experience. “Part of the reason to do this as a group is to demystify the process. It shouldn’t be scary,” she said. Bomstein focused on the midterm elections throughout the fall term as a real-world way to approach civics and government. Her 17 students dug deep into both the practicalities and process of politics. Leading up to Election Day, the class “completed a project where they had to pick a national race and do research into candidates and issues,” Bomstein said. “There was a lot of analysis as we looked at voting patterns and issues in different parts of the country. The students had to do things like analyze campaign videos, look at data and existing patterns in the electorate, and make predictions about what would happen in the midterms. I think they were surprised by what they discovered. They really enjoyed digging into the data, talking about the differences between the parties, and the voting process.”

Lachlan Macfarland, (left) a 12th grader in Caroline Bomstein’s U.S. Government class at the Sun Valley Community School, helped classmate Will Ring prepare for his first voting experience. Macfarland was one day shy of his 18th birthday on Election Day, but enjoyed helping others be a part of the process. Photo credit: Caroline Bomstein

To receive honors credit, her students had the option to get even more involved in the election process. The honors criteria were detailed and multifaceted, requiring the registration of two new voters, extensive research into local candidates to help educate others about their platforms, the completion of a reflection on the process, including a discussion of who students supported and why. Bomstein said, “I tell the kids over and over again, of course I care what you think, but I really care why you think it.”

Students in Heidi Husband’s AP Government class at Wood River High School were also very engaged in practical politics this year, and were at polling places, both voting and working. About 17 students in the upper-level course spread out throughout the valley on Tuesday, helping at every polling location. Hayleigh Simpson of the Blaine County Elections office coordinates with Ms. Husbands to connect the students to process. “Before an election, I email Heidi asking if she has any kids who are interested in working,” Simpson explained. “Those who want to participate get in touch with me directly. We do a two-and-a-half-hour training session a week before the election and then they get assignments. They are really good poll workers and a great group to work with.”

John Tumolo was one of those manning the desk at the Community Campus from 7:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Election Day. Though Tumolo is still 17 and ineligible to vote, he wanted to be part of the process. “It was really interesting to be there all day,” he said. “We had very steady, consistent traffic, including first-time voters. I know a lot of people my age who registered before the election, and voted early, but a lot of students came to vote on Tuesday, too. I think a lot of kids in my grade are very passionate about politics, watch the news consistently, and are really interested in what is going on.” Tumolo explained that there is a practical engagement component to the class, and acting as a poll worker was a great way to meet this.

Dane Malko, an 18-year-old senior at Wood River, voted at the Community Campus, not with his class, but with his mother, Nancy. She said, “It was really special to me to take my son to vote,” and Malko had a great experience. “After I voted, they rang the bell for the first-time voters and I really felt like my vote and voice matters. I couldn’t believe how easy it was, either. I registered when I arrived, waited behind about two people, and voted,” he said. Malko was motivated to vote not only by his family, but also because of a local connection to Ned Burns, who won his bid as a Representative for District 26. “I got to know Mr. Burns when I was working this summer, did research on his positions, and was excited to vote for him,” Malko explained. “Voting in general was really great. It felt like a rite of passage.”

Ring agreed that voting was “pretty exciting. There was a lot of energy at The Community Library, and it felt great to be a part of something so important.” He added, “To be included for the first time, being able to have some sort of control over the process, was really empowering. It was great to know that my opinion matters. I felt good about it, for sure.” He said the process was not as intimidating as he thought it would be. “It was definitely not as formal as I anticipated,” Ring reflected, “and it was kind of funny when they announced I had voted. I wasn’t expecting that.”

What surprised Tumolo the most was the number of people he registered who were new to the Wood River Valley. “When you grow up here, you feel like you know everyone. Sitting there all day, I met so many people I’d never seen in my whole life. I probably registered 100 people who had moved here from other states.”

Local students who turned out to vote for the first time were part of what some are calling a “youth wave” in Idaho: motivated Gen-Z’ers who registered to vote in the November election at record numbers. According to a Tufts University Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement analysis, Idaho was among nine states to have a higher number of 18–24-year-olds on voter rolls this year as compared to the last midterm election in 2018. And that did not factor in students like Ring and Malko, who registered at the polls. Strong youth turnout was evident throughout the nation.

Bomstein said she was very proud of all her students. “I want to give a shout-out to the students, their commitment to their work, and their commitment to the principles of the United States,” she said. “They really rose to the occasion leading up to the midterms and on voting day, but also throughout the fall. There were a lot of strong opinions and lively debate, but they were always very respectful of each other’s opinions and heard each other out.”