Student Hillies Create Voter Registration Campaign, Advocate for Local Participation

HC Media Assistant Operations Manager Christopher Bowden, left, and Haverhill High senior Asil Nguyen. (Courtesy photograph.)

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In advance of the March 5 presidential primary, students from Haverhill High School put together a voter awareness campaign—recording videos with HC Media, helping their peers register, and distributing information through the school’s website and social media.

The goal was to not only increase turnout for the national primary, but encourage voting on the state and local levels, according to Shaun Ashworth, the teacher whose AP U.S. Government and Politics class created the campaign. He added that the effort came out of the city clerk’s office requesting he help get young people registered.

“Local elections, local politics and local matters have the biggest impact on our lives, but the turnout, out of all three levels, local, state and federal, the local turnout is awful,” Ashworth said.

David Martinez, a junior who wrote most of the video scripts, said he enjoys the class, finding particularly valuable its emphasis on local politics, which he had not thought much about before. Summarizing the topics in the videos, two of which can be found on YouTube and were aired on Channel 9, Martinez explained they ranged from a step-by-step guide on registering to the moral and practical reasons to vote.

“Local elections are going to have the greatest impact on your everyday life,” he said. “You’re going to see the changes made by local politicians more than you will, generally, on a federal level. Local elections are in control of your law enforcement, the fire department, things that really matter in the immediate moment. They’re in control of your sidewalks, your public spaces—things that you’ll see every day. I feel like people take that for granted.”

The recordings, labeled PSA—public service announcement—numbers one through six, each open with inspiring piano music backing a “vote” lapel button with a blurred American flag in the background. The camera cuts between students speaking on voting and stock clips of people submitting ballots. In the first PSA, students declare at the end of the video, “because in the tapestry of our nation, every single vote weaves the future.”

Martinez said he came to political consciousness during the turbulence of 2020, grappling with a controversial national election, and outrage over the police killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor—not to mention debates on how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic.

He and Liam Jordan, a senior who also led the project, said they aimed their appeals at young people. Jordan, who was busy the day the class filmed at HC Media’s studio, instead wrote his own script, which he reads in the sixth PSA, which includes a recording from Mayor Melinda E. Barrett. Ashworth reached out to other local representatives who also contributed videos, which can be found on YouTube.

In part, Jordan said he intended to combat apathy in young voters.

“There’s power in numbers,” he said. “If [you feel] your vote alone doesn’t count, it doesn’t mean that you can’t make a difference because you can encourage other people to vote, and you can do that by staying informed and knowing what the candidates’ platforms are, and spreading awareness of the importance of voting, and that can generate hundreds of votes, or dozens of votes, from people who are like minded.”

In her video for the campaign, School Committee member Yonnie Collins communicated a similar message.

“I was elected as the first Black person in Haverhill’s history to [the] school committee because over 900 people decided I was qualified and deserved to have that seat. Each vote counted,” she said.

Pointing to recent debates during School Committee meetings over early college courses at Haverhill High, Martinez said people his age should care about local politics because of their impact on their schools. In trying to reach young people, he said he was inspired by communication styles on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram.

Ashworth said the class’s focus on local politics came in part from his hearing that young people do not want to stay in Haverhill. “In my mind, having a stake here, in the decision-making process, is important in having people stay,” he said.

Working with the city clerk’s office, Ashworth’s class also hosted a mayoral and city councilor debate in the school auditorium during last November’s elections.

City Clerk Kaitlin M. Wright told WHAV her office posts election information on its website, social media and sign boards around the city. It also sends out press releases and automated calls, and she said they recently participated in a voting drive at Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School, and plans on working with Ashworth again this coming fall. Chris Bowden from HC Media produced the videos the students filmed.

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