Paly students, alumni cast their first ballots

    Eligible students and recent alumni of Palo Alto High School cast their first votes today as citizens of the United States.

    For many students, the contentiousness of this year’s presidential election has made their first ballots extremely memorable.

    “I am so excited that I got to be a part of such a big election during my first year as an eligible voter,” Paly alumna Bailey Cassidy (Class of 2012) said. “It is thrilling to be a part of such an important decision for our country.”

    Senior Katherine Price also expressed her anticipation and energy.

    “I enthusiastically support President Obama as well as a number of the propositions and was excited to get to have a chance to express that in an impacting way,” Price said.

    Making informed choices

    Many students base their opinions upon various media and social networking sources, both print and online.

    “I get information from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal papers and both of their websites, various books and magazine and online research on specific issues,” Price said.

    Paly alumnus Benjamin Briskin (Class of 2012) cites National Public Radio, Al Jazeera and the Socialist Worker newspaper as his major sources of information

    “I believe I am extremely well-informed, as I rely on sources other than the corporate-owned media for much of my research on political issues, although I incorporate information from the San Francisco Chronicle and certain other ‘mainstream’ sources into my analyses of the issues and candidates’ positions,” Briskin said.

    While most students use national publications, Zoe Greene (Class of 2012) gathers information from local resources.

    “I read through the statements issued for the local elections and read the local newspapers’ stances to gauge what would be best for the community,” Greene said.

    Students also feel that family and community values are powerful molds of their political opinions.

    “I formed my choice based on the values that I grew up with as well as the track records of both candidates,” Lydia Guo (Class of 2012) said. “My personal values have contributed to my support for Obama.”

    “I voted Democratic,” Linda Li (Class of 2012) said. “I’m from Palo Alto, so like the majority of Palo Alto, I support Obama.”

    Senior Martine Leclerc states that her family helped her in the voting process.

    “I asked family members for clarification and looked up certain propositions for a more detailed description,” Leclerc said.

    Though students feel generally educated about election candidates and issues, many state that they had to make an active effort to seek information.

    “For some positions it was difficult to find good information without going out of your way…[issues such as] City Council members and local measures on minute taxes,” senior Simon Fox said. “In those cases, I decided how to vote based on discussions with others and the limited information I was given.”

    Senior Spencer Carlson emphasizes that students are equipped with the skills needed to inform themselves.

    “I think that for many of the issues, I haven’t been properly informed by the normal process of my education,” Carlson said. “What my education had provided me, however, is the ability to seek out the information I need and make decisions.”

    How to vote?

    Paly alumni all over the country are voting at their school’s polling booths.

    “I voted as a resident of New York, therefore I went to the polls a couple blocks away from my dorm today after class,” Guo said.

    Similarly, Li registered during orientation and voted at her school in Pennsylvania.

    Meanwhile, local students are voting at various polling booths around Palo Alto.

    Price voted at Gamble Gardens today before school, while Fox sent in his ballot at the same place after school.

    “I really wanted to do it in person since it’s my first time,” Price said. “To me personally it feels more exciting to vote at a poll.”

    However, many students and alumni are choosing to use absentee ballots.

    “[Voting by mail] is the way to go,” Carlson said. “This allowed me to research the issues with my ballot in hand, from the comfort of my bedroom…Today, I didn’t have to inconvenience myself by going to some random polling place.”

    Briskin agrees that the absentee ballot is more efficient.

    “It allows me to maximize the time I can spend on research,” Briskin said.

    Leclerc and Greene also voted through mail, while Cassidy attempted to do so but a paperwork mix-up forced her to vote in person.

    Meaning of voting

    Both current students and alumni feel strongly that voting, even as a high school student, is important to the nation.

    “It is of extreme importance that high school students vote, especially those coming from such schools as Paly and [Henry M.] Gunn [High School],” Carlson said. “These schools teach an impressive level of critical thinking and they do a great job of preparing students to vote on issues. ”

    Senior Ben Hawthorne highlighted that this election is especially important and relevant for Paly students.

    “While all legislation and government affects students, this election will have a particularly large impact: two of the propositions on the ballot, props 30 and 38, will have direct effects on education, and the two national candidates differ greatly in their education policies,” Hawthorne said.

    Guo emphasizes that voting is a right that cannot be taken for granted.

    “Even in recent history we have had issues with enfranchising certain populations, namely women and African Americans,” Guo said. “Yet today many fail to realize that people have fought long and hard and have died for the right to voice their opinions.”

    Price encourages students to vote if they are eligible because they have a duty to society.

    “As a citizen, it is your responsibility and right to be interested in deciding how our government will expend its resources and regulate society’s behavior,” Price said. “The outcomes of elections are determined by those who participate, and affect us all.”

    Getting involved without voting

    Many past and current students at Paly are active in the political process even when they are not eligible to cast a ballot.

    “I make calls for Obama,” said Hawthorne, who is not eligible to vote this year. “I’m also a member of the Paly Democrats club, so I do a lot of proselytizing.”

    Price helped directly with the voting process before she was eligible, and continues this work now.

    “In previous elections I have helped with voter registration, and volunteered to help with various campaign efforts,” Price said.

    Briskin volunteered for the Obama campaign in the summer of 2008, but had since changed his views.

    “I became a Green Party activist following the realization that the Democrats’ claims of commitment to social justice are spurious,” Briskin said.

    Carlson offers an alternative way of contributing to the election.

    “I didn’t phone bank or walk precincts,” Carlson said. “[But] I share a ton of stuff on Facebook: infographics, charts, anything to help any undecided friends come around. I also think it helps provide a basis for the arguments of people who see what I share, even if they already are for Obama.”

    Still, a majority of the students state that they have not been involved in the election as more than a spectator when not eligible.

    “I followed major issues, and presidential and gubernatorial candidates,” Fox said. “I have never campaigned for anything.”

    Reaching the age of voting eligibility, however, has gotten many students more engaged in politics.

    “I think being able to vote has gotten me more interested in the election since I am now able to be a part of the outcome,” Cassidy said.