Primaries present opportunities for youth involvement

California and 14 other states may help decide the 2020 presidential candidates when voters go to the polls on March 3


Adele Bonomi and Tabitha Parent

Adele Bonomi and Tabitha Parent

The March 3 California presidential primary and local elections present an opportunity for seniors to vote for the first time, but all high school students can get involved in the election process.

Adele Bonomi


“I’m eager to vote for the first time in the primaries because in order to have a functioning democracy everyone must contribute and I’m doing my part by voting,” senior Grainne Birmingham said. “I’m going to mail in my vote because it is more convenient for me.”

The Californian Consolidated Presidential Primary Election will fall on “Super Tuesday,” the March 3 date on which 14 states will hold primary elections along with Democrats Abroad, a Democratic party arm for American citizens living outside the United States. The primary will also select political party candidates for legislative positions in 46 states, U.S. senators and representatives, and governors and state officials.  

“I’m excited because this is the first time I am able to vote,” senior Isabelle Thiara said. “Volunteering at the polls last election allowed me to see the workings behind casting a ballot, and I’m looking forward to being able to fully participate in democracy this election.”

Anyone over 16 years of age can register to volunteer at a polling station on the San Francisco Department of Elections website. Students can choose to volunteer and obtain service hours, receive a stipend of up to $200, or donate their day’s earnings and qualify for service hours. Volunteering also fulfills the Engagement Activity requirement for the International Baccalaureate Global Politics course.  

“Voting is important in a democracy because it gives people a voice and I think that that is a really important part of our identity as Americans,” Global Politics teacher Angelica Allen said. “Voting is the main way that every individual uses their voice to make political change within their nation and their country.”

For highschoolers looking to get involved, the Department of Elections additionally offers a High School Ambassador Program that helps students conduct services to pre-register to vote. The Department of Elections also provides a High School Poll Worker Program that allows teens to work shifts at polling places. Both programs are eligible for school-required community service hours.

“Pre-registration is a critical step in being able to participate in an election,” senior Arianna Nassiri said. “Voting is a privilege, so it is our duty as citizens to pre-register as soon as possible, in order to ensure that we can vote.”

Working as a Mayoral Youth Commissioner at City Hall, Nassiri helps students pre-register to vote, allowing them to not only become informed about the civil process but to actively engage with a fundamental aspect of American politics. 

“I pre-registered last year at school and it was super easy because all I had to do is bring in my ID,” Houts said. “I think it’s nice to get it done early so that once you turn 18, you’re eligible to vote.”

Registered voters may also choose to indicate their party preference as Democratic, Republican or Independent. California voters who alternatively choose “no-voter preference” can select a specific party to vote for a 2020 candidate.

“In terms of voting responsibility, showing up and using your voice is the simplest thing because we have the power to be informed citizens,” Allen said. “Do not be afraid to use your voice by voting and start to develop who you are, what you stand for and what kind of America you want to see.” 

Voters can register to vote online through the California Secretary of State’s Online Registration, but voters who do not have a signature on file with the DMV must fill out a paper Voter Registration Application, which are available at the Department of Elections, local post offices, DMV offices and San Francisco Public Library branches. 

“I think voting is something to really cherish and to really use your voice to show what you believe in and your values as an individual and thus a community and then a country,” Allen said. “Doing your due diligence like becoming an informed citizen knowing what you stand for and what you value can not only help you but other people in your community lead a better life.”

The latest time to register or pre-register to vote in California for Super Tuesday is Feb. 15.

“When I vote, I think I’ll go to a polling place because I’ve gone to them with my parents when they vote and it seems like a good experience since you can see democracy happening in real-time,” junior Sofia Houts said. “I don’t think there is a difference between voting absentee and going to a polling place because either way, you are participating in democracy.”

Before being eligible to vote, some students like Thiara volunteered at the polls.

“I chose to work at the polls for a Global Politics assignment, and it was really interesting to see the inner workings of democracy,” Thiara said. “At the time of the 2019 municipal election, I was 17, so I couldn’t even vote yet, but I was still participating in promoting democracy which felt pretty empowering.”

Voters can cast their ballots by mail, visiting a polling place, or visiting a voting center such as San Francisco City Hall. Individuals who have missed the registration deadlines or didn’t show up to voting polls can vote provisionally at their neighborhood polling place. 

“Youth representation in democracy is very important because it helps to represent the democratic voice of our country,” senior Isabelle Thiara said. “I signed up to serve as a poll worker in the March elections and I will definitely be voting then as well.”

Tabitha Parent