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Capstone Project: Political Soapbox

As a student, Morgan Rhudy has discovered that there are few opportunities for younger voters to learn about the positions and responsibilities of local candidates. After finding that many of the positions on this year’s ballot were unfamiliar to her classmates, Morgan wanted to develop a unique forum for these candidates to connect with the district’s next generation of voters: high school students. One week before Election Day 2019, with the help of AP US Government teacher Alex Addison, Morgan hosted the first phase of the Political Soapbox Capstone Project: The Candidate Soapbox. With 14 candidates, 35 student volunteers, and over 160 attendees, the event was a huge success! Each candidate was given time to share their platform with attendees and answer prewritten student questions.

Attending candidates included:

  1. Kathryn Haines for Midlothian District School Board

  2. Patrick Regan for Midlothian District School Board

  3. Larry Barnett for the 27th District House of Delegates

  4. Dawn Adams for the 68th District House of Delegates

  5. Javaid Siddiqi for Midlothian District Supervisor

  6. Leslie Haley for Midlothian District Supervisor

  7. Scott Miles for Chesterfield Commonwealth’s Attorney

  8. Stacey Davenport for Chesterfield Commonwealth’s Attorney

  9. Tim McPeters for Chesterfield Commissioner of the Revenue

  10. Jenefer Hughes for Chesterfield Commissioner of the Revenue

  11. Rebecca Longnaker for Chesterfield Treasurer

  12. Michael Jackson for Chesterfield Treasurer

  13. Marni Pilafian for James River Soil and Water Conservation Director

  14. Laura Thompson for James River Soil and Water Conservation Director

According to the Virginia Department of Elections, in the last election where local candidates were on the ballot (2015) only 29.1% of total eligible voters actually voted. By comparison, for the Presidential Election in the following year (2016), 72.05% of eligible voters voted. This is a huge gap, and it is entirely up to local citizens to support these candidates. In the 2019 election following the Political Soapbox event, 42.4% of eligible voters voted, meaning our communities are more engaged and aware than they have been in the past. Though many factors likely played into this, Morgan is proud to know that this Capstone might have played a role in this significant shift.

Of the attending candidates listed above, 7 were elected to office and were invited back to share more about their goals and responsibilities in their new position. Of those invited, Kathryn Haines (Midlothian School Board Representative), Stacey Davenport (Chesterfield Commonwealth’s Attorney), Rebecca Longnaker (Chesterfield Treasurer), and Jenefer Hughes (Chesterfield Commissioner of the Revenue) were able to attend phase two: The Student Soapbox.

On Tuesday, February 11th, over 50 JRHS students and educators gathered to hear directly from these outstanding representatives. All questions were geared towards issues facing students including local policy awareness and education, mental health and support services, equity and community outreach, and most of all, Chesterfield County Public School’s 2020 “needs-based” budget proposal. Representatives spoke on these topics and heard student input that will help to better include the student voice in their decision making.

With the goal of increasing voter turnout in a pivotal cycle and creating a unique forum for local public servants to share their good work and important ideas, Morgan was amazed to see this project come to fruition with the help of so many passionate individuals. She hopes to see these discussions continue throughout our community, as the success of these local elections is vital to a healthy community and democracy.

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