MAYS LANDING — “If you can handle your TV remote, you can handle the voting machine,” Atlantic County Superintendent of Elections Maureen Bugdon told students at Oakcrest High School on Thursday.
More than 200 seniors and juniors from Oakcrest learned the ins and outs of voting at history teacher Vince Sera’s 11th Campaign Convention in the school gymnasium. The annual event is meant to both inform students about the upcoming election and simplify the voting process.
“One of the most important things you can ever do is vote,” Sera told the students. “Your vote is your voice.”
For the first time this year, Atlantic County partnered with all its public school districts for a voter drive during Voter Registration Week in September, but the county has been attending the Oakcrest event for the past five years. Bugdon said Thursday’s event was the most enthusiastic she has seen the students.
“This reaction is probably the best reaction we’ve had,” she said. “We’re running out of pencils, they’re so excited.”
Forty students from Oakcrest registered to vote Thursday, and in total this year, the county registered 445 new voters at its high school events since September.
Senior Daunte Batiz, 17, said he loved that Oakcrest held the event for students to get more engaged in government.
“It’s really good especially nowadays with the political divide. It gets people more into politics,” he said.
In addition to getting a chance to use a voting booth, the students played games centered on history and politics, and heard from Atlantic County candidates seeking election in November.
Sera, a councilman in Brigantine, has been hosting the convention for more than a decade, but only in the past three years has he seen his students get so politically involved.
“They know names, they have opinions on issues,” he said. “So it’s really important to encourage that.”
Sera said each year he tries to pick candidates from different levels of government to speak with the students. This year, he felt it was important for the students to hear from politicians who have an impact on their future in terms of jobs, the economy, housing and health care.
One of Thursday’s participants was Atlantic County Freeholder Chairwoman Amy Gatto, 37, who is seeking re-election. Gatto said she hoped she could inspire more young people to get involved in politics. The Oakcrest graduate became politically active at a young age and was one of the youngest mayors in the state at age 29.
“It means so much to be an Oakcrest alum, having done those things,” Gatto said. “If I can somehow get that message across to someone sitting here, be that example, then it’s worth my time.”
Gatto’s challenger, Nick Polito also spoke.
Oakcrest junior Raven MacIntosh, 16, is too young to register to vote but said she plans to when she turns 17. She said the campaign convention simplified the process, which could be intimidating.
“I like just having the knowledge of it, and knowing my voice counts,” MacIntosh said.