How I found my political voice

By Jahnavi Rao, Conestoga High School Class of 2018

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At sixteen you can’t vote, and you are told there is not much you can do in government. But I refused to let that be my reality, and decided to get involved.


After the Inauguration, I formed this nonpartisan organization, 2018 New Voters, to give a voice to those who were not eligible to vote in 2016. We grew in numbers and resolve as 2017 trudged along. Late in the summer, I reached out to members in the Pennsylvania State government and spoke with the Deputy Secretary of Elections, who put me in touch with Inspire U.S., an organization that helped spring 2018 New Voters to the next level.


Together with Inspire U.S. and the PA State Department, 2018 New Voters held a large-scale voter registration drive at my high school.


Volunteers waited outside sporting events, cold-called houses from the phonebook, walked into homerooms looking for specific people, and texted everyone and their cousin to reach out to the unregistered students, using fourth/fifth parties to contact whoever they could. Students I never knew walked up to ask me how they could help. We went from 30% registered four days prior to the deadline, to 70% three days later. By Tuesday, with more text messages sent out than I've sent in my entire life, we soared past 85%.


When I began, I did not realize how daunting 85% is. There is no margin of error, and you have to take students from every group -- people you’ve never talked to, been told not to, and, in one memorable case, someone who identified as an anarchist -- and get them to register to vote.  Without the active and persistent reach-out, I truly believe we would have only registered less than 50% of the eligible seniors. 


People my age don't want to be idle, and wish to be involved further. In my wildest dreams I hope that this event struck a chord in some by giving them the opportunity to make a difference. 

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