(March 6, 2018 is the Joint Primary Election. Polls are open from 7 AM to 7 PM. For a list of polling sites, click here: McLennan County Election Day Voting Centers. If you are a registered voter in McLennan County, you can vote at any center, regardless of where you live. – ABT)
By Diamante Maya
The United States is a country that prides itself on being a democracy. We see it as so important that we like to help establish democracies in countries around the world. One of the most basic principles of a democracy is that the people vote for who they want to represent them in the government. Despite the importance we place on our value of being a democracy, we as a country have low voter turnout. In the 2016 Presidential election, 40% of the eligible voter population in the U.S. DID NOT show up to vote. And this was actually a higher voter turnout than has been the case in recent history.
I remember graduating high school, turning 18 and being able to vote. I remember how overwhelming it felt because I had never been taught how to vote. I had so many questions about the process. Am I registered? How do I register? What am I voting for? How do I pick who to vote for? It’s been almost two decades since I was 18 and I have yet to be taught how to vote. I’m not aware of any classes or how-to manuals on this. It wasn’t taught in high school and it’s not taught in college. Instead, I have had to teach myself.
When I lived in Los Angeles in my early 20’s, I remember receiving a booklet in the mail. I had not requested it. It just came automatically. I don’t know if the city sent it or not because I was not paying attention to that at the time. It was a non-partisan booklet and it would, for example, list a particular proposition and what those “for” say and what those “against” say. It was up to me to decide what I believed. I remember how much relief I felt receiving this booklet in the mail. Otherwise, I would not have known an election was happening or what it was about.
Then I moved to Waco and in the 8 years I have lived here, I have never automatically received a booklet in the mail to help me out. In fact, many times, I did not even know an election was happening. I had to be proactive to find out. The first year I was here, there was an election. I went online trying to find information and I clicked around trying to figure out what was on the ballot. I couldn’t figure it out and I consider myself quite adept at navigating the internet. I wrote to some friends that were more knowledgeable than I on the topic and they gave me a link to follow to the city website. I remember clicking on the link for a sample ballot and seeing a bunch of letters and numbers. It was not straight forward. I randomly clicked and it pulled up a ballot, but it only told me what was on the ballot. It did not tell me what each person stood for.
As I have talked to people, I have realized that my experience is not the exception. It appears to be the norm. Out of curiosity, I looked it up and discovered California had a 75% voter turn-out compared to Texas’ 43% in the 2016 Presidential Elections. These numbers vary each Presidential election, but stay in a similar range.
Fast forward to February of this year, 2018. I again asked if there was a useful, simple, comprehensive website. This time I asked some people from the League of Women Voters. Finally, finally, I was led to a website that I wished I had discovered many years ago when I turned 18. It’s a non-partisan, comprehensive, easy to navigate website that only requires your address. It gives some basic information on candidates and, for those that provide information; it gives you links to learn more about them. You can access it from your computer or your smart phone.
So, if you are like me and you would like a comprehensive, easy to navigate, website, I highly recommend www.vote411.org. Here are the questions the website answers:
- Am I registered to vote?
- Where can I vote?
- What if I can’t go in person?
- Who and what is on the ballot?
- What does each candidate stand for?
- What are the dates for voting?
- How do I register to vote?
In Texas, we don’t just receive information automatically in the mail about elections, unless it’s a candidate trying to get you to vote for them. It’s an area we could improve; however, until then, each of us has to be proactive. A democracy can’t possibly have representatives for the people if people do not show up to vote for who they want to represent them. Election Day for the primaries is March 6, 2018. Those candidates that get the most votes from each party will run against each other in the November elections. Check out www.vote411.org, exercise your right to participate in selecting who represents you in our government, and spread the word.
Diamante Maya is social worker by trade and a political activist by hobby. Inspired by the life of Jesus, she is an advocate for the marginalized in society.
By Christina Helmick
When you think about what it means to make sure students are prepared to enter college successfully, what comes to mind? That they know how to fill out FAFSA and local scholarship opportunities like the MAC grant? That they have been on college tours throughout Texas and the nation? Or, that they have someone helping them figure out their time management skills prior to getting to college? When I think of what it means to make sure students are prepared for the next level, I think of Project Link.
Project Link is a multi-year project funded by the Rapoport Foundation that partners Waco ISD, La Vega ISD, MCC, and TSTC to serve a cohort of more than 1,000 local students and their families in charting a successful post-secondary journey through intense one-on-one college, career, and financial advising. The goal of the program is to ensure that more students have the opportunity to develop personal relationships with professionals who are focused exclusively on the process of supporting them through high school and ensuring a seamless transition to college, where they will receive continued support until completion of their college degree.
In the 2017-2018 Project Link cohort, 1,131 students are being served across all five campuses. Since the program started in the school year 2015-2016, 328 Project Link students have graduated and enrolled in college.
Project Link is staffed by a Project Link Coordinator who manages grant operations on a day-to-day basis and five Project Link Liaisons, three at the high school level and two at the college level. The three high school Liaisons work with Project Link students to prepare them for college in many ways such as:
- helping students with academic planning for college and career readiness
- providing enrichment opportunities
- college and career assessments
- college affordability planning and financial literacy
- college and career application process
The two Liaisons at MCC and TSTC work with Project Link students to help them through:
- one-on-one mentoring and advising
- life coaching
- college transitioning
- transfer requirements
- financial aid and literacy assistance
- scholarship information
- stress management
- student leadership opportunities
“As a Project Link Liaison, I work with many students who don’t think college is a realistic possibility for them. Much of my job is educating students about what college is and how they can benefit from continuing their education after college. In my specific role, I am able to assist students with navigating the college admissions process and financial aid completion and continue supporting them as their personal advisor at TSTC. The most fulfilling moments of my job are when successful students tell me that they would not be in college if not for the hard work of Project Link Liaisons,” Brandon Chappell, a Project Link Liaison, said.
To learn more about Project Link, visit https://prosperwaco.org/work_category/education/ or call 254-741-0081.
Christina Helmick is the director of communication at Prosper Waco. She is a recent graduate of Baylor University with a BA in Journalism, Public Relations & New Media. Originally she is from Washington, D.C., but has stayed in Waco post-graduation. She is an active mentor at J.H. Hines Elementary School, enjoys spending time with her family and watching Baylor football. Sic ’em Bears!
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.