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A Passion for the Democratic Process: Election Student Poll Worker Story, Ben '17 - Part I of II

11/17/2016
Progressive education at LREI empowers our young citizens to engage with a world beyond the confines of the classroom. As stated by Director Phil Kassen, “the real measure of success and growth is taking all that you have learned and applying it in service to others.” Whether it be a lower school student taking interest in creating a mock election, or a high school student using critical thinking skills to examine how our democracy works, the study of the 2016 national election has become an important curricular component of this fall’s LREI experience. In one history elective, upperclassmen transformed the Charlton Student Center into an Election Command post to track exit poll results. One of those students, Ben M. ’17 continued his passion outside of the school day. Ben spent sixteen consecutive hours as a Poll Worker at LaGuardia High School in midtown Manhattan. In the first of this two-part series, I sat down with Ben to discuss his interest in Democracy and involvement in the political process.

 
 
LREI: How has your LREI experience influenced your interest in Democracy?
 
Ben: My high school education is rooted in current events and being aware of the outside world. More specifically, not just knowing what’s happening, but why and how each individual event has context in relation to another. I’ve become interested in understanding how the government works so that I can understand my own rights. Whether it be Tom’s Economics and Public Policy course or Alicia’s Mandarin class, the topic of Democracy is always present.
 

LREI: In the last national election, you were in the eighth grade; a very different experience and perspective. What do you recall from the 2012 election, and how has your interest in politics evolved since then?
 
Ben: Four years ago, my perspective was that the election was something that occurred – and I didn’t have influence over it. However, it was also at this time that I attended the inauguration of Obama's re-election in Washington D.C. It was a surreal experience, as we were all very aware that we were witnessing history. I recall being huddled in the crowd, but I will admit that I don’t recall any particular excerpt from the speech. Instead, one protestor captured my attention. Whenever the national anthem was played, the protestor would jump down from a tree limb to create a scene. That experience is the most colorful; not necessarily because of the content of the protestor, but because it made me realize the power of the individual. I could see from afar that something important was happening, but I wasn't fully able to comprehend it in the moment.
 
 
LREI: How do you get your news? Do you find that you absorb news content similarly to your peers?
 
Ben: My family has always watched CNN. Even if I don't agree with other perspectives, I watch and listen to as much as possible - through social media, Al Jazeera, Fox, I always want more angles. Although I'll scroll through to find news, I recognize it’s important to read articles, and not just headlines. Headlines may be catchy and entertaining, but they don't necessarily speak to the actual story. As for my peers, social media is a primary source. One of my concerns is that many may only read headlines, and that can be dangerous.
 
 
LREI: What specifically interests you about the election process?
 
Ben: I've always been interested in maps, the electoral college fascinates me. In tenth grade, I did an Honors project on American Partition Movements. As a result, I created a map of 144 states with a time-line (1776-Present) of how the map could have been changed using this alternate reality. Not only did I learn about American History, but I learned about divisions within American society. The current successions (divisions) are very similar to the divisions we have studied in class. This year, I took this map of 144 states and figured out how many electoral votes each state would have. Looking at the past four presidential elections, I would decide whether each state would vote Democrat or Republican. The information I gathered proved that urban environments are predominantly liberal. Throughout the map, the rural population would have far more power than it has today. Each state would have more equal voting power. This equality seems to skew toward the conservative side; rural areas typically have a lack of resources and education that factor into their politics. I find that fascinating. The election has encouraged me to look at the electoral map differently; and the electoral map has made me look at the election differently. 
 
 
LREI: How did you become aware of the Poll Worker position?
 
Ben: This past August, I was taking an uptown train from Houston Street when I spotted an ad within the subway car. The caption was “Election Poll Worker: Get Paid.” That was enough to perk my interest. I immediately went home and registered online. Having turned 18 years old on July 30th, the timing coincided with my eligibility.
 
 
LREI: As a poll worker, what are you looking to achieve through this process?
 
Ben: Last year, my 11th grade trip lab went to Louisville, KY. While spending time at an English leaning/citizenship preparation community building, I noticed how many questions regards laws and history contained content that neither I nor my peers could answer. As a citizen, I want to expand my knowledge of how the government works, it’s my obligation as a critical thinking member of society.

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