PARKLAND, FL – On February 14, 2018, the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School took 17 lives.

I was a sophomore at the time. I survived, but my world was turned upside down. The shooting spurred several of my classmates to take action and led March for Our Lives, which awoke the country to the horrors of gun violence.

During this time of distress and uncertainty, I preferred to keep to myself in my hometown of Coral Springs and study history while spending many hours prepping with my debate partner Sari Kaufman.

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During March For Our Lives, Sari focused on voter registration and was taken aback by how uninformed people seemed to be about their local leadership, candidates, and policy issues. One prominent issue in today’s voting culture is that voters tend to only focus on larger elections such as the presidency, and tend to ignore state and local elections which matter just as much and maybe even more than the presidential election. Sari’s eyes opened to the problem of low information voters, and she set out to solve it.

Sari partnered with professor David McAdams of Duke University and Gita Stulberg, a political strategist, to found MyVoteProject

I began to witness low information voting at a young age, when I would listen to political conversations during election seasons. Many adults around me were uninformed about candidates running in local elections and simply voted for a candidate based on their gender, ethnicity, or how pretty their name sounded.

In March of this year, when the entire country had to quarantine due to COVID-19, I joined MyVoteProject and volunteered to run the policy and candidate’s research teams for the website. I was committed to seeing the project through the November elections and even deferred a semester at Florida International University  (FIU) to do so. I joined the team as a flood of volunteers found MyVote Project. Suddenly the idea became a movement.

I have led over 100 volunteers since March, researching candidates and policy issues. To remain nonpartisan, all candidate information was taken directly from the candidates’ campaign websites and social media accounts. MyVote Project relaunched earlier this month expanding into NC, PA, and other select cities across the country, with the mission of giving voters the background they seek to know issues that directly impact their lives and know the candidates who represent them at all levels of government.

I wanted to take the tragedy of the shooting and create something positive for all voters to engage with and become more informed.

This week marks the final week of my commitment to MyVote Project. While  I prepare to start FIU in January and plan to major in international relations, I maintain that my commitment to MyVote is lifelong and is proud to be one of its first leaders. MyVoteProject represents the future of voting, revolutionizing the way that people vote in today’s age of technology. It’s important that we, the people, have full access and disclosure to the information about our current and future leaders.

The only way for any sort of  “change” to happen in our community, is if we vote smart. Voting smart is staying informed about which leaders we want to make the changes for us.

Learn more about MyVoteProject here.

Bela Urbina is a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and a resident of Coral Springs.

 

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