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Student officials see that all votes count

Student officials see that all votes count
La Vernia High School students serving as election clerks for the May 12 municipal election in La Vernia meet and take a photo with then-Mayor Harold Schott in the city council chamber. Participating students included Eric Mercado, Yesenia Robles, Nadine Bonewitz, Samantha Bartels, Amy Gastauer, Brooke Young, Brent Kruzel, Justin Harshman, Denise Ferry, and Brayden Boren.

Voters in the May 12 municipal election in La Vernia may have noticed something different about the election clerks when they went to cast their ballots. The clerks assisting voters at City Hall were seniors at La Vernia High School.

“It used to be that kids couldn’t be election clerks,” said Michelle Dech, senior class sponsor who teaches government and economics. The school was approached by Angela Cantu, La Vernia city secretary/treasurer, last fall to see if any students were interested in assisting the city in this capacity.

Students interested completed a job application -- yes, it was a paid job! -- and were recommended on the basis of grades, behavior, and availability, Dech said. Cantu added that the students also needed permission from their parents and the school to participate.

A total of 10 seniors acted as election clerks in May: Eric Mercado, Yesenia Robles, Nadine Bonewitz, Samantha Bartels, Amy Gastauer, Brooke Young, Brent Kruzel, Justin Harshman, Denise Ferry, and Brayden Boren.

Their reasons for participating varied, but all felt the experience was valuable, both from a monetary standpoint, and for the experience gained.

“They don’t teach much in school about the electoral process, except the presidential elections,” Brent said, about his interest in participating.

“They paid us,” Amy said, with a laugh. “And it looks good on resumes!”

The students noticed a lot about the people who turned up to cast ballots.

“Probably less than 20 percent [of the voters we saw] were under 40,” Brent said. “Also, out of about 700 registered voters in La Vernia, only about 160 voted. A lot of people don’t vote! It makes me think folks don’t think their vote matters.”

“Where I lived before, everybody would vote!” Justin said, mystified about the low voter turnout.

“A lot of older people came as couples,” Samantha said. “It was sweet.”

Eric and Brent found they were encouraging people to try electronic voting, saying many voters didn’t seem to trust the electronic system, preferring paper ballots.

“We had to count about 200 paper ballots,” Eric recalled. “It took about 1-1/2 hours. Then we had to recount them! And people were waiting and wanted to know [the outcome]. It would’ve been faster with electronic votes.”

They learned about the electoral process, but about themselves, too.

“Being part of it made this more interesting,” Samantha said.

Yesenia said she’s more interested now in politics and government.

“Part of the reason I wanted to participate is that I plan to study law and I hope to be a judge one day!” she said.

“If you don’t vote, your opinion doesn’t count,” Eric shared.

“And people complain, but then they don’t vote!” Yesenia added.

They offered some insight they gained through the process, too.

“I think people didn’t know about the election,” Samantha said. “The city should think about a Facebook page as a way to reach out to younger voters.”

“Yeah, the city should have Facebook,” Eric agreed.

Yesenia agreed that information about the election wasn’t high profile in the community.

“I live in the city and I got to vote,” she said. “But I found out about the election from my mom, who’s on the planning and zoning commission.”

“I don’t see why more people don’t get involved,” Samantha said. “It seems everyone talks, but not everyone takes time to vote.” She suggested the city could use a banner over the highway, such as those used to advertise festivals, to remind people about elections.

Cantu welcomed the ideas when contacted about the students’ suggestions, adding that the program seemed to work well for both sides.

“The students were wonderful!” Cantu said. “I’ve thought about Facebook and am looking into this for the city.”

She plans to employ students as election clerks “é as long as they allow me to use them,” she said, “They’re really smart and picked up on everything very quickly. They were very polite to the voters. It’s great! It gets them involved.”

All the participants said they’d gladly serve as election clerks again, if the opportunity arose. They all will be eligible to vote in the November election, and all plan to vote.

“Before, I probably wouldn’t have,” Samantha said. “But now I see how important it is to vote.”

“You feel more comfortable voting now you know the process,” Brooke said.

Amy offered a bit of advice for voters in future elections, in light of her recent experience.

“Be patient with the election clerks when you go to vote!” she said.

The students all offered a “big thanks” to Cantu, “é for reaching out and trusting high school kids to do this,” Nadine said. “Oh, and thanks to Mrs. Dech, too!”

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