WEST WARWICK — They may not be 18 yet, but having experienced the voting process firsthand, juniors at West Warwick High School are already well versed in civic engagement.
“American democracy is fabulous in many, many ways,” Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea said Friday, standing in the high school’s auditorium before nearly the entire class of 2020. “But it’s also really complicated.”
Gorbea visited West Warwick High School this week to assist in its election for senior class officers. With an ultimate goal of getting “as many people out to vote as possible,” Gorbea said she hopes educating young people on the voting process will ensure higher voter turnouts in future elections.
“I actually believe that our best public policy solutions come when there’s a diversity of opinions, perspectives and backgrounds at the table,” Gorbea told the students Friday.
And voting, she continued, is how all U.S. citizens can make their voices heard.
Still, she pointed out, not everyone does vote.
“The traditional answer to the question ‘why don’t people vote’ is that they don’t care,” she said. “They think that somehow the system’s rigged, it doesn’t matter. But I think the answer’s a little more complicated.”
That election day has historically fallen on a Tuesday, for example, has deterred some voters, Gorbea said. But the mystery that surrounds visiting the polls, especially for young people new to the process, also contributes to low
See VOTE, page A3
Continued from page A1
After recounting her own anxieties visiting the polls as an 18 year old, Gorbea said she’s made it her goal since taking office in 2015 to remove some of the barriers that make it difficult for Rhode Islanders to vote—for example, by streamlining voter registration, redesigning the ballot and investing in new voting machines.
And in 2017, her office began to offer young people a realistic depiction of the voting process by assisting in school elections across the state.
“The names on this ballot are not people you don’t know,” Gorbea said to the students. “You’re voting for something that really matters to you, which is who’s going to represent you.”
The auditorium on Friday was transformed into a polling place. Ballots created by Department of State elections officials and listing the candidates for class office laid stacked on a table beside rolls of “I voted” stickers; two of the voting machines used in actual elections sat on either side of the stage.
Superintendent Karen Tarasevich lauded the process for what it teaches the students.
“It’s really important as part of civics education to understand, not only how voting works, but the importance of having a voice,” she said.
Philip Solomon, principal of the high school, shared a similar sentiment.
“This has been amazing,” he said, adding that the Secretary of State’s Office has helped out during several school elections over the years. “And [the students] will be voting soon—during the next election they’ll be 18.”
Before casting their ballots, the juniors heard Friday from their candidates for treasurer, secretary, vice president and president.
For Leo Salazar, the decision to run for class office was based on a desire to get more of his peers involved in school politics.
“I do a lot of after-school activities, and I believe that I can bring more people into social committee and student council,” said Salazar, who ran unopposed for the role of vice president.
Moses Nicolau and Joe Marzilli each also ran unopposed for secretary and treasurer, respectively.
The contest for class president, however, came down to two candidates.
For Virsavia Goretoy, her resume speaks for itself.
“You know what I can do,” Goretoy told her peers. “I can win the decorations for pep rally—I don’t know how long I stayed up trying to get all those decorations done.”
Still, she admitted, there are some tasks she can’t accomplish.
“I can’t get rid of homework, but I really tried to,” she said. “Some things I can promise, some things I can’t. But you know who to trust, and you know I’m determined to get everything done.”
Hannah Collins, meanwhile, argued that as her class “gear[s] up for a busy and fun-filled senior year,” it’s time for a fresh perspective.
“If you elect me, you will see an immediate shift in communication,” Collins promised. “Always remember that I’m completely accessible, and I love a good debate.”
The senior class president will be announced next month during the high school’s Spirit Week.
After hearing from each candidate, the students made their way to the front of the auditorium, where they filled out ballots before feeding them to the voting machines and receiving their stickers.
And that visual is exactly what Gorbea had in mind when she first implemented the program.
“It’s not enough to lament that people aren’t voting,” she said, as juniors lined up beside her to have their voices heard. “Giving young people the opportunity to see how easy it is to vote, how does it feel and why does it matter by giving them an election that matters to them is, I think, a great way to educate people about the importance of voting.”