New statewide student voting initiative kicks off at Staples

WESTPORT — With Election Day a few weeks away, a new voting initiative looks to educate high school students across the state on the voting process.

On Monday, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz held a press conference with state and local officials at Staples High School to kick-off the 2020 “Mock the Vote” program. The statewide initiative will enable high school students to virtually register to vote and participate in a virtual mock election through a state website. Students’ information will be protected and won’t be shared.

Taylor Symonette, a Staples senior, said she learned the importance of exercising the right to vote from learning about how government works in school. While she can not vote yet, she said it was nice to participate in a mock program to prepare her for when she is legally able to.

“I think this is a really good experience for students to get involved and learn the importance of making an informed decision, and also just having the power to use your voice to make change,” Symonette said.

The program runs from Monday to Oct. 30 with the voting results of each school district announced later.

Taha Banatwala, a Staples senior, said students are exposed to the theory of voting in school, but this program will put it into action to help them understand the implication of their votes.

“I think it’s really useful practice for students,” he said.

Officials also touted the program as a useful tool to educate the youth and increase youth participation in the voting process.

“The idea is to get young people thinking about civics and voting,” Bysiewicz said. “We think this is really important because we are hoping young people are going to talk to their parents and remind their parents to vote, and we also want to get them started off on the right foot being engaged citizens.”

The program looks to educate future voters and keep them involved during an election season where record turn-out is expected.

First Selectman Jim Marpe said more than half of the town’s registered voters have sent applications for absentee ballots with high turnout expected in this year’s election.

“This is, I think, a great indication of how important this election is for the general electorate of Westport,” he said.

He said he has always been proud of Staples’ programs that look to make an impact beyond the school’s walls, and this program will be equally important to make sure the youth feel a part of the voting process.

Staples principal Stafford Thomas echoed similar sentiments.

“Clearly it’s not a lot of description or information that has to be given to our students to understand during this critical and key time how important it is to vote and will be for years to come,” he said. “It always has been, but these are certainly unusual times that demand action.”

Violet Cooper, a Staples senior, said the mock program was important because nationwide civic engagement can be very low in public schools.

“I think it’s very important for that to be introduced in the high school, especially before kids go to college or leave to explore their professions,” she said.

The right to vote is a fundamental right, she said.

“It’s important to acknowledge that and practice it at an early age,” Cooper said. “Especially for us before we can vote to learn the mechanisms of that and the processes.”