/First time voters Delta high schoolers overcome challenges of getting to polls, ballot issues

First time voters Delta high schoolers overcome challenges of getting to polls, ballot issues

Seniors from Clarksdale High School board the bus to get to the polls. This is the first time that teachers have taken eligible and registered voters to the polls. @MSTODAYnews pic.twitter.com/0BAVD44k9u — Aallyah Wright (@aallyahpatrice) November 27, 2018
CLARKSDALE — Kaitlyn Barton (an English teacher at Clarksdale High School) decided to have a discussion with her 12th grade students the day after the results of the Nov. 6 general elections. Only 40%, or 6,237, of 15,359 registered voters in Coahoma county, cast their ballots during that election. This is a low turnout for a midterm election according to some estimates. However, Barton’s students weren’t satisfied and stated how they were eligible and registered, but didn’t vote. Barton said that the reason they didn’t vote was not because they didn’t want to, but because they couldn’t afford transportation to get there. “So, then a lightbulb went off in me and I thought, ‘Ah Ha, we’re schools. She said that school buses are available and could provide a solution. Barton met immediately with Farrington Hill and Harley Wolfe, two history teachers, to sponsor a partnership called The Ballot and Ride Initiative, which allows eligible seniors to vote at the polls in the runoff election on Nov. 27. It was going to be a historic election in Mississippi. Cindy Hyde Smith becomes the first woman to be elected to Congress. Mississippi voters would have elected Mike Espy as the first African American to the U.S. Senate. Clarence Hayes, Clarksdale High principal, had given her approval. Barton called Coahoma County Courthouse in order to verify the locations of each student who would be voting. This would make the process as smooth and easy as possible, she stated. Janalya Turner said, “My teachers always taught me that even though my one vote doesn’t matter it actually does.” JakaylinStacker agreed and said that young people can vote. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do. Zarrious Moore said that my grandma used to wake up very early in the morning and take us along when I was younger. “So this was just something that happened.” On Tuesday morning, the seniors were able to vote for the first time. Barton, Wolfe and Hill led the seniors to the cafeteria at 8:40 AM. There, they were greeted by donuts from a local resident while Hill heated up the bus. Barton checked that each student had valid identification before he seated them. This is a requirement for Mississippi’s voting system. Students climbed onto the yellow school bus around 9:00 am, full of excitement and nervous anticipation. They didn’t know that the journey to the poll box would be filled with unexpected bumps. Barton said, “We don’t want them to be completely absent from their school day because they educational instruction day is really vital to us as teachers.” “We expected it to take an hour or an hour and a quarter to get them to their polling station, but that wasn’t the case. What Hill, Wolfe and Barton thought would only take a few hours turned out to be three and a half. While some students had no problems, two experienced more. This essentially delayed their voting process, while trying to address the issues of where and how to vote. Some students had two precincts on their voter registration cards. One was for county-wide elections, and the other for city-wide elections. Two other students made the task more difficult. Deshannon Burnett and Tiarra Williams names weren’t on the voter rolls. Barton requested a provisional ballot for Burnett at the Fire Station, Lee Drive. One of the poll workers said no and advised her to contact the circuit clerk. Officials from the circuit clerk’s offices stated that this was a countywide election and that voters should go to the precincts under county. Circuit Court Clerk Demetria Jackson advised the students not to be on the rolls to return to their precincts to demand an affidavit as they cannot be denied. Every student was able to vote in the historic election after multiple conversations with poll workers. Burnett was determined to vote and said that filling out an affidavit is “just part of the process”. If you feel your vote isn’t important, It does. It’s as simple as being the larger person and going out to vote. You can find a solution if you are not permitted to vote for any reason. It was filling out a provisional or affidavit to prove they were who they claimed to be. Hayes said, “I thought it was an excellent idea and I was fully supportive of it.” Follow Mississippi Today’s election coverage.