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Civic Engagement Summit prepares young voters for midterms

Several student organizations focused on voting education advised high school students on how to be engaged, informed voters

Mayor Kate Gallego

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego greets student organizers before speaking at the College Democrats of America's national conference on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, outside Neeb Hall on the Tempe campus.

In preparation for upcoming state elections, several ASU student organizations hosted a Civic Engagement Summit to help high school students create a voter registration drive and become more active voters on Friday. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and state Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, spoke at the event. 

The virtual event was organized by New Voters @ ASU, a student organization which encourages young people to vote, and the ASU Civic Engagement Coalition, an umbrella organization that supports clubs on campus with similar missions. Students and faculty from four Maricopa County high schools attended.

Speakers at the event spoke about the many important reasons why young people should vote, including standing up against voter suppression, impacting community and effecting change. The politicians who spoke at the event also talked about a student's role within government.

Epstein, who is running for re-election in her district, said more civic engagement is necessary in order to stand up against laws encouraging voter suppression.

"The No. 1 thing you can do is vote," Epstein said. "The second No. 1 thing to do is help people register to vote, because one of the things they're trying to do is make that more difficult, and help other people vote too."

Ben Branaman, president of New Voters @ ASU and a member of the Civic Engagement Coalition, said the summit was hosted to empower young voters with the resources and education they need to be civically engaged.

"When I was a senior in high school, I definitely didn't realize how easy it was to register to vote," said Branaman, a sophomore studying business data analytics. "Voting to me kind of felt like a very adult thing and not something that I could really get involved in while I was still young."

For Arizonans ages 15 to 29, 51% of them voted in 2020, but for residents ages 18 to 19, only 46% of them turned out to vote, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

Members of Vote Everywhere @ ASU, Aliento at ASU, which advocates for undocumented students, and She's the First at ASU, a nonprofit organization promoting girls' education, answered questions about how to be engaged in voting at a college campus.

The high school students were taught how to register to vote and which candidates and policies will be on their midterm ballots, including two laws that could increase access to affordable college tuition. 

Jake Hernandez, civic engagement director of New Voters @ ASU, said voting can come from "a place of privilege" since not everyone has easy access to the polls.

"We need to use our privilege to vote and be civically engaged and make our democracy as good as it can be," said Hernandez, a sophomore studying economics.

Gallego said civic engagement is a way for people to make a difference in their own lives and in their communities, and Arizona "could not be a more important place" to vote.

"I think it is important that we all want to be involved in government. It has a huge impact on your life and can be so rewarding," Gallego said. "At least in Phoenix, I feel like if you're willing to put in that time, you can make a difference."

Araceli Lopez, a sophomore studying politics and the economy, said being a member of Aliento at ASU has helped her discover her interest in public policy, which has caused her to be more involved in her community as an activist.

"I realized there's so much I don't know about and I like learning and being aware of what's going on in my community," Lopez said. "I can get involved to help different issues that I'm passionate about, especially in the undocumented and DACA community."

Branaman said voting is an "instrument of change" in a democracy, and it is important to give everyone an opportunity to express their opinions and see that change.

“We have such a diverse range of individuals in this country, in this state, that each have very different life experiences and are very acutely aware of different issues we need to fix in our society to continue to grow," Branaman said.

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Alexis WaissPolitics Reporter

Alexis Waiss is a reporter for the politics desk. She joined the State Press in Fall 2021 and has covered state legislature, Arizona politicians, university policy, student government, the city of Tempe and stories highlighting social justice.

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