Among those eligible to vote in the United States, older people show up to vote far more than younger people.
It’s a situation many schools are trying to address by getting kids interested in local elections before they are old enough to cast a ballot.
To that end, students at Barstow Memorial School in Chittenden, welcomed more than a dozen candidates running for state and local office to talk about issues face to face.
For close to 45 minutes, students at Barstow peppered Democratic gubernatorial candidate Christine Hallquist with questions about immigration, property tax reform and minimum wage. There were questions about gun control and what the candidate would do to keep schools safer.
A seventh grader stood up and asked how Hallquist planned to bring universal health care to Vermont and how she would pay for it. Another student asked why Hallquist wants to legalize and regulate the sale of marijuana. Still another student wanted to know what it’s been like for Hallquist to campaign as a transgender woman.
"Let me talk about discrimination in general for starters," began Hallquist. "I believe we all discriminate, we're just not aware of it. I have the unique experience of going from a man to a woman, and as a man I thought I understood discrimination," continued Hallquist, "But I did not."
The 80 or so fifth through eighth graders listened quietly and took notes on clipboards or laptop computers.
Jamie Gallagher, a humanities teacher at Barstow, says students invited Governor Phil Scott, but Scott did not attend.
After Hallquist’s Q&A, the students moved into the gymnasium where a dozen other local and state candidates sat at tables with chairs.
Aidan Page, an eighth grader from Chittenden, sat down with Brian Collamore, a Rutland County Republican running for state Senate.
“What is your opinion on the $15 minimum wage?” asked Page.
“Great question,” said Collamore encouragingly. “I already have a track record on that because I’m a sitting senator," he explained, “so I voted last year.”
“I voted against the fifteen dollar minimum wage.”
Collamore then spent several minutes explaining why to Page, who said later that he appreciated Collamore’s take on the issue.
Five of six senate candidates from Rutland County attended the fair.
Secretary of State Jim Condos had a table, as did his one of his opponents, Republican H. Brooke Paige.
Jim Harrison, a Republican Representative from Chittenden who’s seeking reelection, brought along Tootsie Rolls which made his table popular.
Harrison’s opponent, Democrat Gina Ottoboni, brought flash cards which highlighted things like: the average age of lawmakers in Montpelier, the percentage of women lawmakers, and the number of people of color.
Seventh grader Leo Pond sat down with Greg Cox, a Democrat from Rutland County running for the state Senate.
“What do you believe a livable wage is and do you plan to reward property owners and developers that supply affordable and humane housing opportunities?” asked the 12-year old.
Both candidates spent several minutes explaining why they felt the way they did about wages. The students they talked to took notes and asked follow up questions, something happening at nearly every table in the gymnasium.
Leo Pond said he liked what he heard from Cox.
“I understood where he was coming from,” said Pond. “Even if you work for a small company, you do need a livable wage. But the small company might not be able to afford it.”
The seventh-grader said it was very helpful to have a chance to sit down and talk to the various candidates face to face.
“Because you get to understand, like, how adults vote and what issues they’re trying to understand, and you get to make your own opinions.”
Sixth-grader Riley Quesnel agreed. She believes the school’s election fair will make her more interested in politics when she’s old enough to cast her first ballot.
“I think it will, because we get an opportunity to learn about it at a young age which I think will impact how we’re going to vote when we’re 18.”
Barstow teacher Jamie Gallagher, who helped organize the election fair, said he was thrilled so many candidates were willing to take part. “I think this tells you a lot about the quality of Vermont. And it really shows what politics are supposed to be," he said pointing to all the different candidates huddled in conversation with students.
“My big concern lately is how to teach my kids about keeping things civil. And this is it," said Gallagher nodding. "We’ve got candidates for the same office in the same room and they’re not shouting at each other; they’re saying 'hello' to each other. This is what politics is supposed to be, and this is what I really wanted them to see.”
Brooke Schaffer is in the eighth grade. She said her generation sees issues differently than older Vermonters and will face different challenges. So she said it’s important young people to vote and she for one, is looking forward to it.
“I am personally. Now that we’re learning about it, I understand it more and I’m starting to hear different people’s points of views and opinions and it’s cool to form your own.”