New Bedford Youth Voting Program May Well Turn Around Low Voter Turnout
How do you change a culture where low voter turnout is normal? Part of the slow fix could be ideas like what New Bedford Election Commissioner Manny DeBrito is doing with K-12 students.
"It's all about learning something new about voting and the election process," said DeBrito, describing a partnership between the Election Commission, the Mayor's Youth Council and New Bedford Public Schools.
It's dubbed the New Bedford Votes Youth Empowerment Program and it teaches civic engagement among local students in hopes of inspiring a new generation of voters.
DeBrito said 15 high school students were specially trained in all the election day tasks, and were actively involved with some recent past elections.
New Bedford High School student Abbigail Niland is interested in learning about what goes on behind the polling scenes, and asked if there was any way someone could rig a local election.
"We were taken step-by-step through the entire voting procedure, seeing the different levels of checks and balances that make rigging an election pretty much foolproof," Niland said.
Keyanna Jones, also a NBHS scholar, said when she engages with her friends, they all are willing to participate.
"No one has ever involved 17 and 18-year-old high school students at the polls before," Jones said. "Until I was taught, I didn't know anything about what happens to a ballot once someone has voted. By being involved and working at the polls, I have knowledge of the process, and I feel my vote really counts."
Joe Twomey teaches American Government and World History at NBHS and has seen the change the program has brought about.
"It's very powerful to see a trained student encouraging another student about voting," he said. "That's the kind of change we're hoping for."
Twomey credits DeBrito for writing up the curriculum.
"The New Bedford Votes Youth Empowerment Program encourages young people to want to vote," Twomey said. "We're working towards creating a civics leadership academy, and this course will be one of the initiatives that's imbedded into it. Principal Bernadette Coelho has been very supportive, and we're excited to offer the civics course at New Bedford High School."
Maybe some things, like changing societal voting behavior, is implausible for one city official, but you can reshape a person's attitude – and the more people you help, the more attitudes you change.
Social reform comes from individual people like these students, teachers and civil servants. The older generation has been waiting for all of you.