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Senior English students at Siloam Springs High School are exploring the ballot issues in the upcoming November election as part of a project designed to encourage them to become well informed voters.

The students are choosing one of the five ballot issues to research and investigate, then creating 30 second video commercials to support the position they take, according to teacher Maria Conroy. The commercials will be showcased at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1, in the high school theater and the public is invited to attend.

Students have been working on the project for the past month, Conroy said. As part of their research they have looked into the background of each issue, interviewed people, and had several special speakers visit their classes, including local veterans who came to talk to them about the importance of voting and civic engagement.

Representatives from the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service also came to speak to the class about the state ballot issue, guide the organization prepares for each election and gave students copies of the publication. The information is also available online at

"We have had them digging about who brought this issue to the table, how many times has it been on the ballot previously, who would gain, who would lose, they've just really been trying to think about all of the sides of each of the issues," she said.

As students got ready to make their commercials, they had to think through the various methods of persuasion. They watched old election campaign commercials and analyzed the techniques the commercials used to speak to their audiences. Megan Dennison, audio visual department teacher, has been helping students with the technical side of creating the videos, Conroy said.

"They've been immersed in this for about a month, so they should know what they want to say," Conroy said. "They've taken a stand, they've thought about the counter argument, they're supposed to have reasons, evidence and good clear sources they are bringing to the table," she said.

The project has created some civic discourse between students who don't agree on the issues. A group working on Ballot Issue 5, which would strengthen voter ID laws, decided to part ways so they could work on the issue from opposite perspectives.

Zayda Kingfisher said her group is making a commercial against the issue because they feel requiring voter ID is going to be an unnecessary cost for voters as well as the government.

"Our research said there has only been three cases of voter fraud in a 14-year period so we're trying to show how inefficient passing it would be," she said.

She said that requiring a voter ID can also create an obstacle to voting, especially lower income and minority people in the southern and eastern part of the state where voter turnout is already low.

Maddy Lasater disagreed, explaining that her group is concerned about a safe and secure elections, especially after the 2016 presidential election when many allegations of voter fraud were made.

Both groups said they were looking forward to seeing their opponents commercial and agreed that healthy civic debate is a good thing.

Other ballot issues could have a direct impact on students, who either already have jobs or will soon be entering the workforce. A group that included Elijah Garrett, Tida Lor, Olivia Pate and Katee Mendoza is making a commercial about Issue 5, which would gradually raise the minimum wage from the current rate of $8.50 an hour to $11 an hour in 2021.

The students said they are in favor of the issue. Garrett explained that raising the minimum wage would help employees to get paid more, which will help cover their basic needs. The argument against Issue 5 is that raising the minimum wage could potentially cut jobs because businesses would have to pay employees more, he said.

At first, Lor said she didn't really care about the ballot issues but now that she understands them better she feels more likely to vote. Garrett agreed that doing research and learning about the issue has made him more likely to vote in the future.

Working on the project has brought out the strong points of both sides of an issue for some students. A group that includes Emery Brown, Vanissa Martinez, Rashelle Villanueva, Maddie Bunch and Wyatt Church is working on Ballot Issue 4, which would authorize casinos in Arkansas.

The group said they are for the issue because Arkansas won't be losing money to other states, and the money will go towards education. However, they also recognize that people are against the issue because of concerns that gambling will destroy families or lead to poverty. Church said some of his research also raised concerns about transparency in how the money will be used.

A group that included Primo Agbehi, Cheyenne Mallow and Tristan Smith is working on a commercial on Ballot Issue 3. The issue, which has since been removed from the ballot, would have shortened term limits for state senators and house representatives.

The students said the group is against Ballot Issue 3 because it takes so much time for legislation to pass and then take effect, that by the time legislators see the results and get to evaluate whether or not they made a good choice, their time in office would be over.

Mallow said that Karl Mounger, who was on the city board multiple times, came to speak to their class and told them that he lost his last election by one vote. She said his experience really illustrated how much each vote can count.

As seniors, a handful of students are already 18 and will be able to vote on election day, but almost all of them will be able to vote in the next election, Conroy said. A few students were inspired by the project to register to vote, she said.

"Our veterans were encouraging them to vote, 'This is so important, every vote counts,'" Conroy said.

General News on 10/28/2018

Print Headline: SSHS seniors creating ballot issue commercials

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