During my sophomore year of high school, I remember waiting patiently at City Hall for a clerk to unearth a copy of the city ordinances so I could “learn more about local government,” though in reality I was determining whether or not I was eligible to run for mayor. My community in rural Missouri was heavily apathetic, and I was determined to do something about it.
When I discovered that age restrictions applied to the mayoral office—thankfully, in my case—I sought new ways to combat the polarization that ran rampant not only in Congress, but was reflected in communities as well. Taking what I had learned from years of debate—that there are not only two sides to every argument, but often even more—I started a nonpartisan political organization at my high school. This was my effort to give students a platform to speak, and more importantly, to listen.
That same year, as I marked my calendar for the day I could register to vote, I learned that 17-year-old primary voting existed in a plethora of states, though Missouri was not one of them. Some further research brought me to FairVote and lead me to authoring legislation on 17-year-old voting for our Girls State conference in Missouri, the mock government group for high schoolers. My Girls State experience provided me with a deeper understanding of how polarized our voting system truly is. Even then, I realized that my fight to promote voting rights and electoral reform was only beginning.
My first taste of a real political campaign occured the summer after I graduated high school. Long hours in the Virginia heat was spent canvassing to elect officials who aimed to prevent voter disenfranchisement. The work was demanding, but always satisfying, so I was happy to campaign in New Hampshire that fall, helping New England voting rights champions get elected. A few months later I traveled to Washington D.C. for a FairVote activist summit to learn about ranked choice voting and further my understanding of electoral reform from a different angle. While there, I also learned about internships with FairVote.
Now, I am an Outreach intern for FairVote. Though I may not have been elected mayor of my town, I did discover that there are ways to be a conduit of change no matter how young you are or how divisive our politics can be. Ranked choice voting is the kind of change we can bring about to make our democracy work better for everyone. It’s not a partisan matter of red or blue; it is a matter of giving all voters a greater voice and more fair representation for everyone.