I am a member of the West Yellowstone High School senior class, and I am writing to tell you about the government project we have been working on for the past few weeks. We have been studying the democratic process in class, and were given an assignment to increase the voting percentage in West Yellowstone.
During our research we discovered that in the last presidential election year, only 9.2 percent of West Yellowstone's registered voters chose to cast their ballot- approximately 115 people. This is astonishingly low for a presidential election, especially when compared to the national average of almost 60 percent. This last year the voting percentage in West Yellowstone was 22.69 percent, which compared to 9.2 percent, seems very high, but is still way below the national average.
It became our goal to bring the local voting percentage for this year’s upcoming election up to at least 30%. Our class split into two groups, one with the goal to increase overall voter turnout on Election Day and the other with the intent of increasing the number of registered voters in West Yellowstone. (Keep in mind, that the percentages we have reiterated are based solely on the population of registered voters.)
In the former group, we began by gathering preliminary information for our project by conducting a survey in which we contacted as many members of the community as was possible by phone. We asked the community members if they were registered to vote in Montana, and, if so, how regularly they voted in national, state and local elections.
We were pleased to discover that a large percentage of those we contacted were registered to vote, however many of them did not often, or even at all, take advantage of this right. There were many reasons people gave for choosing not to vote such as inability to make it to the polls, not feeling educated or up-to-date on current political issues and feeling as though their vote would have no impact. We also found that many people were not voting because they did not know that once registered to vote in a state, they remain registered until they choose to re-register in another state.
Most of these problems were either inaccurate or can be easily overcome, but sometimes it just takes a little work to obtain correct information or solutions. Our goal became to help inform people with the facts and give them some new information on how to better prepare themselves on their way to the polls. So, we compiled the responses we got from our survey and then, based on the information people gave us, we created several posters stating the answers to commonly asked questions like information on where, when and how to vote, how to register and created flyers providing several ideas for how to keep informed on current political topics. These flyers are located in several places around town and we hope that people will take the time to read them.
As one group worked to inform the public, the other took it upon themselves to tackle the opposite side of the voting issue because it is one thing to convince already registered people to vote, and an entirely different thing to convince people that are not registered to do so.
The group created several pamphlets and a poster outlining the requirements one must fulfill in order to vote and where a person interested in registering can go to pick up and fill out a voter registration card. These flyers are available at the school and Town Offices as are voter registration cards.
Voting is an important democratic process that many people all over the world will never be privilege to, and it is a terrible shame that, in a community our size so very few people decide to exercise their right to vote. Though many may think that they are not smart enough, or do not have the time or the knowledge to vote, this does not have to be true. If a person does not understand or know something, it does not mean that he or she is unintelligent. And, asking questions is always a good thing to do especially in this day and age when all the information a person could possibly need is usually right at their fingertips in the form of the Internet.
It is our hope that this letter will be another way to remind the people of our community of their right to vote, and that it may encourage them to, if they are not already active, to become more active voters. If a person decides to vote, he or she is not succumbing to "The Man," but instead becoming an active part in their country's democracy and ultimately trying to make a change that they think will positively affect the nation, their communities and themselves. Our goal is to have a 30 percent voter turnout at the next election, which should be easily achievable, but we cannot do it alone. Please support our cause and get out and vote.
Maisie Gospodarek, on behalf of the West Yellowstone senior class