"I voted” stickers were the ticket in to a pizza lunch at Carlmont High School Friday.
Teens filed into the staff room anxious to get access to pepperoni and melted cheese. But they weren't gathered just to eat. The about 130 students were the inaugural honorees into the Carlmont High School Vernon Dahmer Voter Hall of Fame. Sponsored by the three government teachers — Ashley Gray, Kris Weisman and Karen Ramroth — students could earn a spot in the hall of fame by doing one of three things: voting, working in a polling place or getting 10 registered voters to commit to voting. Friday's lunch was a celebration of the students who took on the challenge.
Gray explained that, statistically, a person is more likely to continue to be involved in elections if they start at 18. Ramroth added students were bucking the trend of youth apathy when it comes to politics.
"It's so rewarding to see the level of interest and commitment displayed,” said Weisman, who added it helped her feel more confident about the future knowing these young people would be the leaders.
For students, the program was an encouraging step to become involved.
Seventeen-year-old Kelly Ellis helped at her local polling place. She was surprised at how often people would ask for her help understanding the propositions but also enjoyed seeing the variety of people who came in, including immigrants who were proud first-time voters.
Among the first-time voters in the November presidential election were 18-year-olds Jordi Vasquez and Chris Batshon. Both seniors opted for the voting route into the Hall of Fame.
Batshon said he didn't know much about politics before taking economics. He watched the debates at first for the offered extra credit in class but found himself more interested. Now he thinks it's important to learn more about the issues so he can start growing his political knowledge as he gets older.
"Whether we like it or not, we're the future generation,” he said, adding the experience solidified for him that he will vote in the coming years.
Michelle Marsiske, 17, decided to chat with neighbors who were mostly young voters, around 18 to 19 years old. She was surprised how motivating it was for people to learn how easy it was to vote as well as how close the polling places were to their home.
The Hall of Fame is named for Vernon Dahmer, who lived in Hattiesburg, Miss. and served several terms as president of the Forrest County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He led voter registration drives in the 1960s. He kept a voter registration book in his store in late 1965 to make it easier for others to register. Dahmer also helped the local population pay a poll tax for the right to vote. His mantra was, "If you don't vote, you don't count.”
Going forward, all students, regardless of age or citizenship status, will have an opportunity to get their name added to this Hall of Fame by participating in the democratic process.
Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.