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February 8, 2023

Civics Summit Planning Committee, Dec. 16: Your vote is your voice

Contributed by Civics Summit Planning Committee

“Every election is determined by the people who show up.” — Larry J. Sabato

Voter apathy and disengagement only feed into further discontent with the political system. If a small number of voters, regardless of political affiliation, are the only ones to decide the issues, we all have to live with these repercussions. All elections have consequences and democracies are not spectator sports.

Engaging students at the local level with the people elected to serve our community is a critical step to provide civic experience for emerging voters. On Nov. 3, the County Office of Education partnered with the Democratic Central Committee, the Santa Cruz Elections Office and Cabrillo College to engage students with the local election process and the people and positions that decide the issues in Santa Cruz County.

Students’ robust participation at the event demonstrated that youth want to hear from their local leaders and are ready to learn how to become more involved and engaged citizens. Many participants were surprised to learn that they can pre-register to vote starting at age 16 (registertovote.ca.gov), and that constituents of any age can — and should — speak to their elected representatives about the issues that matter to them.

More than 260 students were able to attend the inaugural Civics Summit, but how can we best reach the rest of the young people in our county? We asked the experts, our student participants at the Civics Summit, to submit a written action plan outlining an innovative approach to engage youth in the voting process. Lozano Smith donated a $500 scholarship for the contest winner. We received several thoughtful and creative responses, and all of our students’ ideas will be shared with the County Clerk Gail Pellerin, who heads the Elections Department.

Claire Aseremo is the first winner of the Voter Engagement Plan Contest. Ms. Aseremo is a senior in Barret Vitol’s U.S. Government class at Aptos High School. She proposed a website specifically aimed at young voters and high school students. By providing resources geared at newly emerging voters, the site would then serve as a dynamic non-partisan website resource for local students and educators in the community. Ms. Aseremo will receive her scholarship check at the Santa Cruz County Board of Education Meeting on Dec. 21.

We need to keep the conversation going to make sure all of our voices, regardless of age, are heard. As Ms. Aseremo stated in her award-winning submission, improving civic engagement among our young people benefits society as a whole by creating “a future wherein people are more politically aware, care about public affairs, and can fully represent the people in governmental decisions.”

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The Civics Summit Planning Committee consists of Dr. Faris Sabbah, Coco Raner-Walter, Gigi Kelbert, Amanda Jackson Miller and Carolyn Livingston. Their opinions are their own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.

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