Welcome to Your Vote Week 2024
‘Welcome to Your Vote’ week, from Monday 29th January to Sunday 4th February, is a week where schools and youth groups are encouraged to celebrate democracy and to educate young people about how and why they should vote. During this week, Long Road Sixth Form College hosted three events including, information sessions, registration sessions, and a mock ballot with the aim of educating and empowering young people to vote.
We started off the week with information workshops. The theme of this ‘Welcome to Your Vote’ Week was ‘Your Voice Matters’. To make this event more effective, we paired with Cambridge City Council, and a member of their elections team, Georgia Thurston. Georgia presented 5 information sessions about voting, and why our students in particular should aim to break the false narratives around young people not turning out to vote.
Also, she produced some statistics proving every vote matters. One example was in the 2017 general election in Northeast Fife, the Scottish National Party won with a majority of just 2 votes.
Georgia also emphasised the importance of voting through a cartoon by Nick Anderson. It shows a small group of people with shirts saying, ‘I Voted’. Then on the other side is a much larger group saying, ‘We didn’t vote because it won’t make a difference’. Through the cartoon and the earlier statistics, Georgia managed to focus on the theme of ‘Your Voice Matters’. This is what Georgia had to say about ‘Welcome to Your Vote’ Week:
‘Welcome to Your Vote Week is an excellent opportunity to help students engage with elections and campaigns. The focus of the week is to de-mystify registering to vote and to empower students to find their democratic voices. the combination of information sessions and more informal registration drop-in events allows us to reach a large number of students within the college and helps them to engage, as we move into this election year, it is really significant to help students feel informed and excited to cast their votes.’
In the 5 sessions, 113 students attended with 6 staff members bringing their classes. Although many of our students are too young to vote, staff felt it's important to get their students educated and excited about voting, and getting as many young people as possible registered to vote from aged 16. Our staff attendees told us:
‘Voting means having a say in how the country is run, which affects us all. When the bins are emptied, if the bins are emptied, whether education should be free, private schools abolished, the NHS should have long long waiting lists, refugees – people struggling and needing help - should be shipped off to another country instead of being helped here…. well… these things matter, and if we don’t vote, we’re saying they don’t matter; we’re saying we don’t matter. We do, and we have a voice.’
‘Young people’s views are underrepresented in elections, as a lower proportion of this age vote. Their views are very different to the older generation, and decisions being made in parliament, that will impact on them, are being made by people that do not represent the younger generation. Young people voting for the politicians most aligned to their views and ideals will hopefully bring in some changes.’
‘I wanted my group to join the talk so they can feel like they have a voice and understand the importance of voting to create change. I liked how Georgia explained how voting affects people's lives and how society runs while also debunking the all-too common thought that voting won't change anything. I think it's an important reminder to our young people that they have a say in their future despite all the challenges they face as young people, and that by voting, they can vote to limit these challenges they are currently experiencing.’
We ended the week with two mock ballot and registration drop-in sessions. We were in the student centre and food centre physically taking students through the process of registering to vote and for those who are already registered, they got a vote in the mock ballot. The mock ballot asked students the question ‘Should voting age be lowered to 16?’. This sparked lots of conversation between students. Some had the opinion that 16-year-olds are not mature enough to make important decisions. However, others argued there are plenty of adults who aren’t well educated in politics and yet, they can still vote.
The mock ballot paper that was given to students can be seen below. We received 110 votes in total, 54 for ‘Yes’ and 56 for ‘No’.
Over the two days, we also helped 32 students and 2 staff members register to vote. We had QR codes, which directed people to the government website, and a tablet ready for anyone who wanted to register to vote. Then, Georgia was there to answer any questions staff or students had. Additionally, we had 3 student volunteers who helped people register and encourage young people to vote in the mock ballot. I then asked our student volunteers why they feel it is important for young people to vote and why they wanted to help at this event. These are the responses I received:
During the registration and voting process Charlotte and Georgia had some great conversations with students about their thoughts on voting:
'I think voting is important because a well-informed society on what they are voting for means a society that caters to what everyone believes, making it more cohesive. For this reason, I wanted to help out to create more awareness around the importance of voting to ensure your opinion is considered.'
'Voting is an important duty that all citizens in a democracy have which we take for granted as some countries manipulate or outright ban it. It is a means for everybody to elect representatives who can represent us and potentially to directly decide on policy which can affect ourselves and even others. Hence Young people should turn out to vote because by not making decisions, we are letting others do this for us- and this often can put self-serving individuals and incompetent leaders into power.'
In total we reached 258 students with ‘Welcome to Your Vote’ Week and 8 staff members. This means hopefully a proportion of the student body feels more empowered and educated around voting and why they should vote. This kind of social action had a positive impact on the students because it sparked many important conversations around voting, making even those under 18 feel empowered enough to have an opinion and to be heard. This event additionally has a wider community impact as the more young people who vote in local and national elections, the more influence they have to promote change in the communities they are a part of. Thank you so much to Georgia for spending the week with us and helping to educate and empower our students!