Liam Furlong is giving himself a unique birthday present this year. The Salesianum School senior turned 18 on Nov. 1, and two days after that he will walk into a voting booth and participate in the democratic process.
“For the first time I can be an active participant in the democracy I’ve grown up with for the past 18 years,” said Furlong, who will vote at a church in his Brandywine Hundred neighborhood with his father, Tim, a television reporter in Philadelphia.
“Even before I realized that I would squeak on in before November 3rd, my dad especially said, ‘I can’t wait to bring my son in to vote for the first time.’ I think he mentioned it on TV a few weeks ago. He’s just as excited about it as I am, if not more so.”
Furlong is among a handful of high school seniors who have turned 18 in time for the 2020 elections. The opportunity to step inside a voting booth is something that they take seriously, and they have been encouraging their eligible peers to do their civic duty.
Declan Landis, Furlong’s classmate at Salesianum and president of the student council, was registered in Maryland when he received his learner’s permit to drive last year. As his interest in politics grew, he confirmed that he would be able to vote Nov. 3. The events of 2020 have made him believe that he needs to vote.
“I felt that I needed to be more involved in what was happening,” Landis said. “Specifically, everything that I’ve learned in school about speaking up for the voiceless, and trying to advocate for ourselves and trying to make a better community through voting, through active participation, it really kind of changed my perspective and kind of forced me to take a look in the mirror and realize what I could do to make the change that I wanted.”
He took an interest in the political process and followed the candidates in the months leading up to the election. A class on how the political system works also generated interest.
Landis said he will not have to worry about missing classes on Election Day, when he will go to Bohemia Manor High School to vote. The issue that means the most to him is social justice and institutional racism, which has been a topic of conversation at Salesianum. A plan to combat the coronavirus pandemic also is important to him. He and his friends have discussed how important it is to vote, and that has helped clarify his thinking.
“Hashing out how we feel has kind of helped me kind of realize where I stand on getting involved and, I think, opened up other people’s minds, people who didn’t necessarily think that their votes counted,” Landis said.
At Archmere Academy, senior Lily Sabine was excited to get out to Rustin High School in West Chester, Pa., early on Nov. 3, with her mother, who wanted to accomoany her daughter for her first vote. She has been following some local races in Pennsylvania as well as the presidential and other campaigns. The local elections are of great importance, she said, something she has been trying to make sure her peers understand.
“I think it’s really important for teenagers especially to realize how much the local elections impact our daily lives. Every state is governed in a different way,” she said. “I’ve been trying to get people to understand that it’s essential that we vote in these local elections because we’re going to feel the effects of that … on a much larger scale.”
Sabine said it is difficult to gauge how successful she has been, but she believes people are listening. Her efforts have spread beyond her contemporaries. A few weeks ago, she was at Syracuse University in New York for a visit when she saw students asking passers by if they were registered to vote. She did the same with a friend in West Chester.
Her classmate, Anna Garcia, will have to sit this election out because she doesn’t turn 18 for another month, but Garcia is following the 2020 political season intently. Her interest increased since her friends have spent time talking about the issues. Teenagers, she said, are taking this seriously.
“People understand that it’s a privilege to be able to vote. It’s not something that we should take as a joke. I think my friends and most of the Archmere community who are seniors and who can vote, we take it seriously and research it and make sure to spend the time,” she said.
As at Salesianum, diversity has been a big topic at Archmere this year. Garcia and Sabine are involved in the diversity and inclusion group at the school, and that Garcia has studied how different local candidates are addressing that topic.
“I’ve been following stuff about that with the different state representatives and the governor just to see their opinion. So, that’s definitely something that’s super-important to me,” she said.
There is some extra buzz around the Claymont campus this year since one of the presidential candidates, Joe Biden, is an alumnus of the school.
“It is a pretty big topic of conversation, just about his success. It is definitely really cool that someone who is running for the president of the United States of America went to the same school that we’re at right now. It is definitely mind-blowing,” Sabine said.
She said she may be late for school on Election Day, but for an important reason. All are ready for potential delays, although Furlong said some of his friends have mailed in their ballots. He believes Election Day should be a national holiday.
“I think I’m all ready to go. I have a good idea of what my voice is going to be saying on November 3rd,” he said.
On the Friday before the election, Landis, who was planning on going to the polls with his mother, said he had all of his candidates picked out, but he would likely do a bit more research over the weekend. Garcia will be paying close attention, and she expected to remind her peers to vote via a social media message that morning. She will be voting in her own way.
“My parents actually took a copy of the ballot because they both voted by mail,” she said. “It’s my ‘fake ballot,’ almost so you understand how to vote in the next election. I think I’ll probably do that just to see what it feels like.”