Juniors organize group to encourage civic engagement

Kendall Davis | The Chronicle

With a strong interest in politics and inspiration from school, several students have set out to make a difference in the community when it comes to voting and civics.

Junior Alisa Zhao founded the MasonVotes organization after taking an AP Government and Politics class in which she learned about how low voter turnout in America is. Shocked by the low numbers, Zhao contacted other students to create a club to encourage the younger generation, specifically in the local community of Mason, to vote. 

“The younger generation has a lot of things going on,” Zhao said. “We have high school, college, jobs, trying to climb the corporate ladder. Voting becomes this thing in the back of our minds.”

Zhao said it is important for young people to take the time to vote so that they are represented in the government.

“These issues are going to impact us,” Zhao said. “If we don’t vote on these measures that will soon be policies and laws, the community we live in won’t align with our values and our beliefs and that’s no one’s fault but our own because we didn’t go out and vote on election day.”

Zhao began working on the project last year, but the organization ran its first workshop on February 18th, 2024. Knowing the 2024 election season would cause a busy year for voting, Zhao sought out other students to help her run MasonVotes.

“I emailed people that I thought would work well together, had an interest in government specifically, and had a great work ethic,” Zhao said. “I wanted this to be people that maybe in the future want to go into politics or law or government.”

As the club gains more members and the election dates approach, Zhao said she hopes to have more frequent workshops, as well as collaborate with other youth organizations with similar interests. Zhao’s collaborator, junior Zoe Fowler, said the club also hopes to have a larger audience for future events.

“Our first [workshop] was a dry run,” Fowler said. “We only invited our friends, ten or so people, and it wasn’t super well marketed. In the future, [we’ll be] trying to have larger scale workshops where we can reach out to more people and bring people who we don’t know as well.”

Another MasonVotes member, junior Aarin Sharma, said MasonVotes aims to educate more students about voting because many younger audiences are unsure of how to get started or how to be more politically active.

“[Voting preparation] is not really the most [well-] taught thing in our society,” Sharma said. “Sometime in the summer, we’re gonna hold a voter registration drive at local events to get young people, especially incoming seniors, who will be 18 in November, to register to vote.”

Reflecting on the first workshop, Fowler said she thinks the information sparked an interest in the students, which led to engagement at the meeting. 

“Afterward we had several people come up to us with follow-up questions,” Fowler said. “It’s good for them to be like, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize I had this question, now I can get it answered.’”

Fowler said she wants to help people become better educated on who they are voting for beyond just voting based on what others say or party-line voting, which is when an individual votes for candidates based only on their party affiliation.

“I know so many people that have said things like, ‘Oh, my parents voted for this person, so I’m going to vote for them,’” Fowler said. “[I want to] teach youth and teens how to do their own research and how to understand what a candidate stands for.”

Sharma said he wants to use MasonVotes to remind young people that voting is extremely important, especially because not everyone can vote.

“I’m not a citizen, so I can’t vote, but I want other people to vote because they have that right,” Sharma said. “People don’t realize that as an immigrant I want to be able to vote, but people that do have that right aren’t exercising it.”