Sarah Hagerty finally got her “I Voted” sticker.
“Voting was done at my elementary school,” said Hagerty, 18, a senior at East High School. “I’d always see people come out of the library with this sticker and I always wanted one but couldn’t have one.”
On Wednesday, she and about 20 classmates cast their votes and got their stickers during the first day of advance voting at the Sedgwick County election office.
“I’m really excited,” said LaRissa Lawrie, another senior from East.
“I think my generation, we’re getting into politics. All of my friends feel passionately one way or the other.”
This week, about 200 Wichita high school seniors will ride buses from their schools to advance voting locations across the city. Students have been learning about elections in history and government classes, and those who will be 18 on Nov. 6 were encouraged to fill out voter registration cards.
“We want our students to be involved in the community and in causes bigger than themselves,” said Bill Faflick, Wichita’s assistant superintendent of secondary schools.
“The first time a person votes is a huge event, and the students are excited to share that with their peers.”
This year marks the second time Wichita high schools have offered students the chance to vote together during the school day. The first was during the 2008 presidential election.
The buses are being financed by the school district, following its policy on field trips and educational activities, said district spokeswoman Susan Arensman. She said the cost will be about $700, which will pay for a bus to make one trip from each of seven Wichita high schools to the nearest polling place.
Dale Dennis, Kansas’ deputy education commissioner, said transporting students to polling sites during the school day is “a local board decision” and isn’t prohibited under state regulations.
“We have trips for music, for athletics, and it’s not uncommon to see buses at the Statehouse,” Dennis said. “If this is part of their American government or citizenship program at the school district and they want to teach students to vote, that’s the local board’s decision.”
Madi Murray, who turned 18 in September, said she “read a lot” and watched the presidential debates with her family to prepare for her first vote Wednesday.
“It’s this feeling of responsibility,” she said. “Regardless of everything my family thinks, everything my friends think, this is my responsibility to vote about what I believe in rather than what everybody else says.”
Jerry Newman, 72, voted alongside the East High students at the Historic County Courthouse on Wednesday. He said he couldn’t remember the first presidential candidate he cast a ballot for.
“Oh, that was a long time ago,” Newman said, laughing.
“Good for these kids, though, getting out here and voting. Everyone needs to do their part.”