A lesson in civics; Keaau HS partners with county to hold student elections

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It was like any government election, complete with ballots, voting booths and election boxes.

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It was like any government election, complete with ballots, voting booths and election boxes.

The candidates, however, weren’t running for mayor or County Council, but rather president, vice president and other leadership positions in their respective classes at Keaau High School.

Student Activities Coordinator Christopher Ho, who partnered with the Hawaii County Elections Division to organize Thursday’s Student Body Government Elections, said the event was a first for the school.

“The overall goal is to just create civic-minded students that, once they leave here, are willing and wanting to fill out voter applications and actually know the process of going out to actually vote,” Ho said as students began filing into the school’s playcourt.

In the past, slips were handed out during class, with students discussing their choices in groups of friends. Ho described it as more of a popularity contest. And with a background in government, he saw a need for change.

“I talked to the kids and I said, ‘Do you want to have a real election and actually do one where you’re on par with the adults?’” Ho recalled. “They were all for it.”

So, the school rewrote its bylaws and stepped things up.

There was early voting, although only 12 students participated. And candidates were even required to submit financial forms, regardless of whether they spent money on their “campaign.”

Among the first students to emerge from a voting booth Thursday afternoon was ninth-grader Jyric Queniahan.

He said he feels it is important to participate and wished more people would.

“If there’s no one to vote, then they’re just going to have to pick someone,” he said.

In Hawaii’s 2014 General Election, statewide voter turnout dropped to an all-time low of 52.3 percent. Ho’s hope was to beat that number.

The final counts, however, fell far short, with only 18 percent of the student body casting a ballot. The freshman class had the highest turnout at 29 percent.

“They are lower than we would like,” Ho said of the numbers. “However, for this being our first year using this system, I could not be prouder of these students.”

Ruby Galapon, vice president of the sophomore class and candidate for junior class president, agreed it’s important everyone’s voice is heard.

“I think that’s sad,” she said of statewide voter turnout.

To give the election a real feel, the county offered its services free of charge. Elections Division staff member Frank Yoshida was on site Thursday and said it was a great introduction for those students who chose to participate.

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“I think it gives them an idea and hopefully with this process when they grow up to be adults they’ll be more likely to get out and vote,” he said.

Email Chris D’Angelo at cdangelo@ hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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