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First Vote NC: Keeping civics real and making it meaningful

Do you remember your first vote? For me, it was 1986. My mother worked the polls, my parents talked politics over dinner, and I dutifully registered to vote as soon as the law allowed. When I left for college, my parents handed me an absentee ballot. The elections that fall were midterms, and Ronald Reagan was in the middle of his second term. A few days before the election, my mother called to make sure I had mailed in my vote. I had not.

She let me know I would be driving an hour and a half to my polling place on election day. I protested — I had an exam! My mother was not to be swayed. The three-hour trek seemed ridiculous to me at the time. It was a long way to go for what I then considered a meaningless five-minute stop.

My parents explained to me that citizens had suffered for the right to vote and that men and women in our military sacrificed their lives to protect that freedom. As with a thousand other things, I appreciated the lesson later more than I did then.

Not every kid has a parent who will make sure they vote, much less ensure they understand the privilege of the franchise. Today’s young voters are the least civically engaged in decades. In 2014, only 19.9 percent of 18-to-29-year olds cast a ballot, the lowest turnout in the last 40 years.

This fall, First Vote NC — in partnership with EdNC, Carolina K-12 (formerly the NC Civics Consortium), and NCDPI — is launching an initiative that will make our students not only understand how and why to vote, but will make them want to vote.

Because voting is like smoking: if you try it when you are young, you are likely to get hooked. Studies suggest you are 83 percent more likely to be a life-long voter if you vote in your first election. That’s an addiction we want our kids to have.

First Vote NC is a free project-based learning initiative designed around the North Carolina Essential Standards. It provides an online platform specifically for high school students enrolled in American History: Founding Principles, Civics, and Economics to run a simulation election for their entire school.

Teachers can sign up today to get all the benefits:

Implementation guide

Adaptable lesson plans

Variety of modules and timeframes

Access to online voter platform with customized ballot

Exit poll asking students demographic and civic engagement questions

Graphically illustrated election results and downloadable data sets

Option to sign up for text and email reminders about registration deadlines and upcoming elections through TurboVote (must be 17 or older)

Access to annual initiative to focus on local and midterm elections

Teachers inspired this initiative. We learned from their brilliant examples of project-based models where students work in groups with real-life problems to solve; reflect as part of the process; produce a public product; and are emboldened to be creative and motivated by knowledge.

Not all kids have parents that encourage them to vote. Not all kids would listen to them even if they did. But together we can create a powerful experience for young people across the state. One that allows them to understand the importance of their voice and their role in ensuring a vital democracy.

It begins with giving teachers tools, and students leadership opportunities. It’s worth it in the end, even when you have to make the drive.

Hunter Buxton

Hunter Buxton is a consultant and founder of First Vote NC.