Young people are politically alive - Salish Current

An exercise in ranked-choice voting preceded a discussion on how to improve election turnout in a program at Whatcom Community College. (Minda Rae Amiran photo)

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Commentary: Proof of involvement found at Pizza, Primaries and Politics event

Anyone who thinks that all young adults despair of political involvement or avoid any connection with elections would have been disabused by the Whatcom Community College (WCC) students taking part in a discussion of primary elections on April 11. 

A Pizza, Primaries and Politics event held at Syre Hall on the WCC campus was attended by 115 students and other adults, who engaged in lively exchanges with presenters and panels. 

The event was organized by the League of Women Voters of Bellingham/Whatcom County, together with the Associated Students of WCC, WCC Social Sciences faculty, and the Office of Student Life and Development.

The program began with a student presentation on the history of presidential primaries in our country, followed by a joint faculty-student presentation on primaries in Washington state.  A panel of four, including one student member, discussed reasons why fewer citizens vote in primary elections than in general elections, and a second panel of three, including one student member, discussed possible improvements in primary election procedures. Both panels answered questions from the audience and, despite not having time to address all of the questions, panelists remained after the end of the program to continue discussion.

When former county council member Kathy Kershner asked her fellow panelist, student Hans Nelson, why young people vote in smaller numbers than older citizens, Nelson replied that it was a lack of connection, a lack of interaction with dedicated voters and elected officials such as was occurring at that very moment. Many students in the audience may have been sharing Nelson’s sense of connection in real time.

Before discussing how to improve the primary election process — and elections in general — League member Kit Muehlman led an exercise in ranked-choice voting — f­or favorite pizza.

Students formed groups representing their first choice of pizza, and if their choice was eliminated in the second round, they moved quickly to another group. (Mediterranean pizza won.) The process of ranked-choice voting became clear, and figured in the thinking about procedures that eliminate the need for “strategic voting” and allow for wider input into the choice of election winners.

Principal credit for involving other students in this event goes to Mariam Mohd, Executive Vice President of Associated Students. Not only did she recruit student speakers and helpers, but she participated in the presentation on Washington primaries and on the panel on the future of primary elections. She also delivered the evening’s closing remarks, and urged fellow students to vote in August. 

When reviewing the meeting with Cindy Madigan, the League’s principal organizer of the event, Mohd welcomed collaboration with the League on educational programs. The League’s Civics Education Committee will be considering topics for future event.

Other panelists who participated in the program were Barbara Lewis, political activist; Alan McConchie, Fair Vote Washington;  and Doug Robertson, WCC professor. Presenters besides Mohd were students Vi Vo and Jovanka Wong and WCC professor Mary Haberman.

View a video of the event via WCC Media Services.

— By Minda Rae Amiran

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