Teaching our young people about voting by pairing them with veterans

Veteran Nick Jordan between students Annie Lindgren and Alison Zaverl.

 

A question was posed to a group of Ely high school students and veterans gathered for training to be election judges Wednesday in Ely.
How can we get 18 year-olds to vote when they are 18 and every single election after that?
The organizer of the event, Ely summer resident Cole Kleitsch, explained it was 1971 when the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed to allow 18 year-olds to vote.
“It was ratified within three months and eight days making it the fastest amendment every to be ratified,” said Kleitsch, Director of Walking Civics. “Why do you think this was important in 1971?”
The answer was clear, the Vietnam War. What the students didn’t know was there was a veteran of that war in the room.
“I’m Jim Belehar and I’m a Vietnam vet. I did two tours in Vietnam and I ended up coming back from Vietnam before I could vote,” said Belehar. “It makes a difference.”
A veteran closer in age to the teens was also in the room. Nick Jordan served six years in the active Army and was in Afghanistan three weeks after 9/11. He’s also been in the National Guard for the last nine years.
Jordan explained he moved back to Ely to be part of a small town. He owns Ely Safe Ride and will be offering voters rides to the polls at a discount on election day.
Stressing the importance of voting to our young people is not a new cause. But Kleitsch’s idea to bring veterans and high school students to be trained as election judges is new. And it just might work.
“No matter what else happens, you’re going to know about election law,” Kleitsch told the students. “You’re going to know the process of an election and you’ll leave here as a fully qualified election judge.”
Kleitsch said that may not sound like a cool thing but down the road they will be the ambassadors when somebody asks about registering to vote or how an election works.
The students, veterans and two new election judges received training from Ely city clerk Harold Langowski and Town of Morse clerk Nick Wognum.
Last week Kleitsch’s idea received an important endorsement:
“The Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools is delighted to endorse Walking Civics and your initiative.
We are especially pleased to note the inter-generational nature of this project. The engagement of veterans with students, as poll workers, is powerfully compelling and a superb educational experience in and of itself.”
The class in Ely was a first step toward getting young voters to the polls. And barring allowing people to vote via their cell phones, it’s going to take ideas like pairing kids and vets to keep our democratic process a vibrant one.