Student organization encourages Oregon youth to vote


Cate Stone

Cate Stone (top left), Vivian Wang (bottom) and Danica Leung (top right) during an Oregon My School Votes state lead meeting. Stone, Wang and Leung began the Oregon chapter of My School Votes in June to encourage Oregon youth to register and vote in the November election.

With only six days until the presidential election, independent groups are encouraging people to vote in what many argue is the most critical election of our lifetime.

Across the state, students have been urging youth to register and are working to increase overall youth voter turnout through an organization called My School Votes. The Oregon chapter was founded by three Lincoln students but has grown to include over 25 members. 

My School Votes is a program within When We All Vote, a nonpartisan, nationwide organization that was created in 2018 by many notable people, including Michelle Obama, Megan Rapinoe and Tom Hanks. The program was created last spring with the goals of empowering youth to register to vote, encouraging students to learn about voting and increasing youth voter turnout in every election. 

In the 2016 election, only 46.1 percent of citizens ages 18-29 voted– the lowest turnout rate of all of the age groups– according to a study done by the U.S. Census Bureau. The solution? Getting youth registered to vote. A study done by the U.S. Census shows this age group will vote at almost the same rate as older generations when registered. 

 Senior Cate Stone began the Oregon chapter of My School Votes in June.

“[I was inspired to start the Oregon chapter because] I wanted to make an impact this election, even though I won’t be old enough to vote,” Stone said. “[I’m trying to] do whatever I can do. This election is a big one, and it’s really important that young people vote.”

Before high school, Stone was not very interested in politics and democracy.

“I was definitely not always civically engaged,” Stone said. “But then, in my political economy class at the end of sophomore year, we did a Socratic Seminar as a final, and the topic was, ‘What is democracy?’ I researched voter suppression and voter disenfranchisement, and I remember being super angry about it, especially how it disproportionately affects people of color and suppresses their vote. That was when I found My School Votes.”

In the past few months, Oregon My School Votes has worked on a number of different projects. They held text banks, where members would text high school students asking if they were registered to vote. They also collaborated with Mask On PDX, a nonprofit organization run by Lincoln junior Lark Zabel that makes and sells masks to donate money to different groups in the community. In total, they were able to donate over $200 to When We All Vote. 

To make information about voting registration more accessible, Oregon My School Votes also created a video called “How to Register to Vote in Oregon and Why Voting Matters.” The video outlines why it’s important to vote, what the registration process looks like and how students can get involved. 

Up until the election, Oregon My School Votes plan on doing a lot of follow-ups with people to encourage them to turn in their ballots.

“I think that, in Oregon especially, there’s this misconception that voting doesn’t matter,” Stone said. “[In the future, we’re going to work on] really emphasizing voting in all elections and figuring out what we can do to promote every single election. Hopefully, this work won’t just end on Nov. 3.”

When Stone began the Oregon chapter, she quickly recruited senior Vivian Wang, who knew little about voting at the time.

“Growing up, [my family] never really talked about civic engagement, so last year [when Stone] asked me, ‘Are your parents registered to vote?’ I just assumed that my parents weren’t registered to vote,” Wang said. “That turned out to be true… That triggered a motivation to encourage more youth to vote. I didn’t know about the process at all, and I felt like other people probably wouldn’t know about it either, so I wanted to get the word out.”

After realizing how many people were interested in this cause, Stone and Wang recruited junior Danica Leung.

Leung took an early interest in politics and the government through school. 

“When I was a freshman, I [saw] this wave of young women, especially women of color, enter office. That was the first time I had seen anyone that looked like me represented in office,” Leung said. “It became very important for me to be able to have that representation in more and more seats of government because [women], especially women of color, are disproportionately unrepresented in office.”

Oregon My School Votes is striving to reach as diverse an audience as possible. The government has historically been overwhelmingly run by white men, but organizations like these are trying to change that. 

“Voting and participation in politics [are] open to everyone. There is no one type of person that is suited to be interested in politics,” Leung said. “The fact of the matter is that politics affects our everyday lives. Even if you think the federal government is really far away, there are still so many local elections and local ballot measures that can really change how our elections are run and how our city is run.”

Although Stone, Wang and Leung began Oregon My School Votes, they do not take all of the credit.

“[We] started the Oregon chapter, but there are around 27 other people who are part of it too,” Stone said. “It’s really a team effort, which I think is super cool. This has kind of been a silver lining of the pandemic for me. It’s been super cool to [virtually] meet people across Oregon who are also passionate about voting, civic engagement and increasing voter turnout in all elections.”

All three co-founders believe that it is extremely important for youth to register to vote and vote in all elections, both local and national. 

“If we don’t [register to vote], vote and get engaged in politics,” Leung said, “Then the most diverse and socially conscious generation, probably ever, is not going to have a voice in government and is not going to get represented.” 

If you’re interested in getting involved with Oregon My School Votes, fill out this form or check out Oregon My School Votes on Instagram.